Species: St Helena gumwood (Commidendrum robustum)
Status: Endangered (EN)
Interesting Fact: In 1977, the St Helena gumwood was adopted as the national tree of St Helena, a UK Overseas Territory.
As its name suggests, the St Helena gumwood is endemic to the small volcanic island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. This highly branched tree has a crooked, knarled trunk, an umbrella-like canopy and thick, hairy, wrinkled leaves. During the winter and spring, the St Helena gumwood produces white flowers which droop from the ends of the branches. This hermaphroditic plant was once a regularly occurring species within subtropical and tropical forests on inland cliffs and mountain peaks, with large amounts of seed falling around the parent plant and germinating freely.
Since 1659 when the first settlers arrived on St Helena, the St Helena gumwood has been exploited for use as timber and firewood, and forests have been cleared to make way for pastureland. In addition, this species faced further pressure from introduced goats which grazed heavily on its seedlings. By the 1980s, the St Helena gumwood population had been drastically reduced, and this spurred conservationists to put a management plan into action.
This species is now protected by the Endangered Endemic and Indigenous Species Protection Ordinance 7 of 1996, and the instigation of the Millennium Gumwood Forest Project resulted in 4,300 St Helena gumwood trees being planted in previously degraded wasteland in 2000. Other replanting and weed clearance projects are underway, and a successful biological control programme has helped to combat the destructive jacaranda bug which was responsible for a decline in the St Helena gumwood population in the early 1990s.
Find out more about environmental management on St Helena.
Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content and Outreach Officer