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Kew man keeps hope alive for extinct St Helena Olive

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Plant experts still hope to rediscover the St Helena Olive, the unique island tree that was declared lost in 2003 – for a second time.

The stubby tree was presumed extinct until island naturalist George Benjamin discovered a single specimen in 1977.

olive tweetThat one wild tree died in 1994, and the species became extinct when cultivated seedlings and cuttings succumbed to fungal infections in 2003.

But Colin Clubbe, of the UK overseas territories department at Kew Gardens in London, is not giving up on the stout and shrubby tree that once grew on high ground on the island.

In a post on the Twitter messaging system on 27 April 2013, he said: “We remain vigilant during our fieldwork in St Helena in the hope of rediscovery. One day?”

In the mid 19th Century, islander John Melliss found only a dozen-or-so specimens of the St Helena olive. 

When it was rediscovered, it proved extremely difficult to try to produce new plants from it. The tree rarely produced fertile seeds, but a few were found and are preserved at Kew.

A last-ditch rescue attempt was made by sending shoot material to London, but it was too heavily contaminated with fungi.

Experts at Kew are currently assessing plants in the UK overseas territories to see which ones should be added to the Red List of endangered species.

LINKS: 
St Helena Olive – Kew Royal Botanical Gardens
Red-listing the unique plants of the UK overseas territories

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