Species: Café marron (Ramosmania rodriguesii)
Status: Critically Endangered (CR)
On sending his pupils out to explore for rare and interesting plants, a school teacher on the island of Rodrigues in 1980 was astounded when one of his students returned with a fresh cutting of a plant believed to be extinct.
The café marron had last been seen in the 1940s, and is now known from just a single wild individual on the island of Rodrigues. The café marron grows as a shrub or small tree, with oppositely arranged leaves. The sweetly scented, hermaphroditic flowers are greenish-yellow at first, but become pure white at maturity.
The café marron cannot self-fertilise. This prevents plants from inbreeding, while promoting out-crossing, which increases the genetic vigour of offspring. However, the inability to self-fertilise becomes somewhat less advantageous when a plant’s global population is reduced to a single individual.
It was probably a combination of introduced herbivores, invasive alien plants, and habitat loss that decimated the café marron population. Owing to the unprecedented level of scientific interest that surrounded the little plant in the aftermath of its rediscovery, local people became convinced of the plant’s medicinal properties. Consequently, there was a period before the erection of multiple fences, and even the installation of a guard, when people were intent on removing branches, twigs and leaves from the hapless plant.
Relatively soon after the rediscovery of the café marron, cuttings from the surviving plant were sent to Kew Gardens in England. In 2003, a major breakthrough was made, resulting in the production of a small number of viable seeds. Since then, several seeds have been successfully germinated at a nursery on Rodrigues, with the aim of eventually re-establishing a wild population on the island.
Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author