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Finding thriving specimens of a rare Caribbean shrub

Sara, Colin and Martin
17 March 2011

Kew conservationists are thrilled to have identified a rare shrub at several previously unknown sites on Virgin Gorda in the Caribbean.

Last week, we departed for fieldwork in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a UK Overseas Territory in the Caribbean.  Here's what we've been up to since our arrival:

After two days on Tortola meeting and planning with our project partners, the BVI National Parks Trust, we relocated to Virgin Gorda, a short ferry ride from Tortola’s Road Town Harbour. Virgin Gorda is visited by many tourists for its beautiful beaches and sailing opportunities, but we are attracted by its unique flora.

Sara and Colin confirming the identity of  Croton fishlockii (Image: RBG Kew)

Our first task has been to try and evaluate the status of Virgin Gorda’s special plants. Gorda Peak National Park is home to the island's top five plants - Zanthoxylum thomasianum, Machaonia woodburyana, Calyptranthes thomasiana, Calyptranthes kiaerskovii and Croton fishlockii. Three full days of collecting data in the beating sun, have provided us with a good impression of how these unique species are doing.

Much of today has focused on Croton fishlockii, a small hairy shrub in the Euphorbiaceae family known only from the Virgin Islands, including some of the BVI and and St John (US Virgin Islands). First collected by Walter Charles Fishlock in 1919, Croton fishlockii was described as a new species by Fishlock's colleague, Nathaniel Lord Britton, who named it after him. Fishlock was a Kew gardener working at the Agricultural Station on Tortola, now the site of the J.R. O’Neal Botanic Garden, managed by the BVI National Parks Trust.

Recording the details of a newly discovered population of  Croton fishlockii (Image: RBG Kew)

Before this trip, Croton fishlockii was only known from one location on the edge of Gorda Peak National Park. After today’s work we are pleased to report that Croton fishlockii is more widespread than we thought. We found it in several locations growing on exposed hillsides.
 

Croton fishlockii in flower (Image: RBG Kew)

We collected herbarium specimens today in order to compare with Fishlock’s original 1919 type specimen, still preserved in Kew’s Herbarium collection. We discussed the need to get the plant into cultivation, where it will receive additional protection in case anything should happen to the wild plants. As this is the dry season and not a good time to take cuttings, this will have to wait for a future trip.

- Sara, Colin and Martin -

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Comments

18 March 2011
Comment: 
Breaking news - yesterday we found a small, healthy population of Croton fishlockii on Prickley Pear Island. Our survey was the first botanical survey to be undertaken on Prickley Pear which was particularly exciting - I've been trying to get to Prickley Pear for years! In addition we also found Malpighia woodburyana - another restricted range species - photos soon.