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More tea plants, anyone? ‘Lost’ endemics found near airport site

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA forgotten strand of St Helena’s unique tea plant has been rediscovered below Longwood, it has been reported.

The bushes found in Fisher’s Valley are much larger than any other known specimens on the island, some reaching 1.5 metres in height.

It is believed that their existence was known to George Benjamin, the man who discovered the “extinct” St Helena ebony. But no record of it was ever made.

Click the pic for a larger image
Tea plant flowers in Fisher’s Valley: click for a larger image

The plants were spotted by members of the Landscape and Ecology Mitigation Programme (LEMP), set up to address possible harm to the environment from the island’s airport construction work.

A government press release says: “This handsome tea plant population is not mentioned in any of the current literary sources or species records, and no seed is known to have been collected from it before now.

“For the wider conservation community this population has thus been effectively re-discovered.”

The St Helena tea plant (Frankenia portulacifolia) is a dry land endemic, with petite white flowers, tiny leaves and delicate branches. It is listed as vulnerable on the international Red List of threatened species, but its status is under review.

“The inclusion of this population in island records is extremely important,” says the release. 

Tea plant populations are known in the dry coastal areas in both south-west and north-east St Helena.

Ecologist Mikko Paajanen said: “The tea plant population at Prosperous Bay Plain has naturally been affected by airport construction activities so it is very positive to see this little known population in Fisher’s Valley doing so well.”

Seeds from six of the plants are already germinating in the project nursery at Half Tree Hollow. Plants grown from them will be used in restoration of the environment. 

St Helena tops the league table for unique species
St Helena: a ‘life raft’ for unique species
Flowers come out as ‘rarest tree’ beats extinction
Island’s large bellflower ‘could be lost’ to genetic mix-up
The Saint who risked all to rescue a plant
George Benjamin: the man who saved the St Helena ebony

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