Two 'Extinct in the Wild' species at Mount Lofty Botanic Garden

Date posted: 07 February 2018

Two of the world's 'tea' species are extinct in the wild and more than a third are threatened with extinction, according to a new report.

The Red List of Theaceae (the tea family) was published by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) in January, and it identified two species as Extinct in the Wild - both of which have been part of Mount Lofty Botanic Garden's collections.

Camellia amplexicaulis is a shrub or small tree that was found in the Tam Dao National Park in North Vietnam, but the last remaining wild subpopulation has since disappeared. It can be found in Mount Lofty Botanic Garden's South East Asian Gully, of which Camellias from South East Asia, Japan and the Korean peninsula are the dominant feature.

Franklinia alatamaha is the other species identified in the report as Extinct in the Wild. The flowering tree from Georgia in the United States has not been seen in the wild since 1803 despite numerous attempts to relocate it. Commonly known as the Franklin tree, Mount Lofty Botanic Garden previously counted one tree among its collection, and hopes to soon add more plantings.

The BGCI report assessed 254 Theaceae species and identified 85 as threatened with extinction, revealing that nearly half of Camellia species are at risk of extinction in the wild.

Deforestation due to widespread agricultural expansion was identified as the greatest threat to the survival of the tea family species, while logging for timber is another key threat.

The report findings highlight the key role botanic gardens around the world play in the ex situ (off-site) conservation of plants. In fact, the world's botanic gardens contain at least 30% of all known plant species, including 41% of all those classed as 'threatened'!*

Tea species aside, the Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium of South Australia counts many plants threatened with extinction among its living collections.

You can not only spot big-name species such as the critically-endangered and prehistoric Wollemi Pine (at Adelaide and Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens), but endangered plants endemic to South Australia such as the Mount Lofty Speedwell (Veronica derwentiana ssp. homalodonta - planted near Adelaide Botanic Garden's Australian Forest), which the South Australian Seed Conservation Centre has been working hard to safeguard from extinction.

So next time you're wandering Adelaide, Mount Lofty or Wittunga Botanic Garden and stop to marvel at a beautiful plant, keep in mind that the simple fact it's growing here may be contributing to the species' very existence!

Further reading

Photo on right: By Hungda (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons