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MOBOT scientists help rediscover two tree species thought to be extinct

Scientists at the Missouri Botanical Garden have confirmed the discovery of two tree species that were thought to be extinct.

Last year botanists from the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania set out to look for the trees. They discovered small populations of both species in a remote forest in southeastern Tanzania, along Africa’s eastern coast.

Missouri Botanical Garden botanist Roy Gereau worked with British scientist Phil Clarke to confirm the identity of the trees.

“Both trees are still in critical danger of extinction, given that fewer than 50 individuals of each species are known,” said Gereau. “‘Critically endangered’ is the highest threat category on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.”

One of the tree species, Erythrina schliebenii (in the legume family), belongs to the genus of “coral trees” which have large red flowers and spiny trunks. The tree was listed as extinct on the IUCN Red List in 1998. The only known specimen of the other tree species, Karomia gigas (in the mint family), was cut down a few years after it was discovered in Kenya in 1977. Another tree was found in 1993 in Tanzania, but until last year researchers had been unable to relocate it or any other examples of the species.

It’s hoped that the rediscovery of these rare trees will support efforts by the World Wildlife Fund, in partnership with local communities and the Tanzanian government, to conserve the patches of coastal forest where they were found.

The recent fieldwork in Tanzania’s coastal forests was supported by the United Nations Development Programme Global Environment Facility, the World Wildlife Fund and the Tanzania Forest Service.

The research is published in the Journal of East African Natural History.