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Conservation of a twice 'Extinct' tree species in Tanzania

26 April 2013

Erythrina schliebenii is a Critically Endangered tree species endemic to Tanzania. This charismatic species belongs to the genus of ‘coral trees’, which have beautiful red flowers and spiny trunks. E. schliebenii was only known from herbarium collections dating from 1934 and 1935 at Lake Lutamba in Lindi Rural District in southern coastal Tanzania. Following unsuccessful searches for the species in the area where these specimens were collected, and given the information that much of the area had been cleared for a cashew nut plantation, E. schliebenii was declared Extinct in The World List of Threatened Trees (Oldfield et al. 1998).


Flowers of the species were then collected in an area of unprotected forest inland of Kilwa at Namatimbili, 115km from the original collection locality, in 2001 by Frank Mbago, the superintendent of the University of Dar es Salaam herbarium. Studies by staff at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew confirmed that this collection was the same species as the original herbarium specimens from the 1930s, confirming the species was not in fact extinct.

 

 

Following news that part of this area had then been cleared for a biofuel plantation in 2008, it was feared again that the species might well have been lost; however, it has since been confirmed as still present but is known only from this single locality with a population of only approximately twelve mature individuals, leading to its current status on the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered. 

 

Above: flowers of Erythrina schliebenii


Propagation material was successfully collected from E. schliebenii and five healthy seedlings have been cultivated by Mr. Lenin Festo, Grounds Officer at State House Ikulu in Dar es Salaam. These seedlings will be ceremonially planted in the grounds of State House and in Zanzibar on Union Day in 2014, to mark the 50th anniversary of the unification of Tanganyika and Zanzibar to form the United Republic of Tanzania. This event coincides with Arbor Day and will certainly be a day to celebrate the valuable conservation efforts of such an attractive species!

 

 

 

 

Mr. Festo, leading the ex-situ conservation efforts for this species, has recently been accepted to study the International Diploma in Botanic Garden Management at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. BGCI would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Festo. 

 

 

Above: Mr. Lenin Festo 

Useful links

Erythrina schliebenii conservation assessment on the IUCN Red List

More information about the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew International Diploma in Botanic Garden Management

 

 

 

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