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Pitcairn plant flowers at Kew

Marcella Corcoran
13 April 2011

Although extinct in the wild, Abutilon pitcairnense from Pitcairn has just flowered at Kew Gardens for the first time.

For the first time, Abutilon pitcairnense, unique to Pitcairn Island has flowered at Kew in the Tropical Nursery. The Pitcairn Island group is found in the South Central Pacific and is one of the 16 UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs).

Abutilon pitcairnense at Kew Gardens (Image: RBG Kew)

Thought to be extinct, in 2003 a single plant  of Abutilon pitcairnense was re-discovered by local Islander Carol Warren and its identification confirmed by two botanists from Trinity College Botanic Gardens, Dublin. Propagation material (cuttings and seed) were collected from this plant and grown in the island's nursery. By 2004 there were seven successful germinations and several rooted cuttings in Pitcairn.

In 2003 Dr. Noeleen Smyth brought some of the newly rooted cutting material from Pitcairn back to Trinity College Botanic Gardens, Dublin. The species was then secure in ex-situ collections. Unfortunately, in January 2005, a landslide destroyed the only wild plant found and the species became extinct in the wild. Ironically, around the same time the material bought back to Trinity College Dublin flowered for the first time outside of Pitcairn.

Further cuttings were taken from the Trinity collection in 2007 and brought to the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, Glasnevin. These cuttings flowered in the glasshouse at Glasnevin for the first time in January 2010. Cuttings from these plants came to Kew Gardens in January 2010.

From this material, which was only a few centimetres long, plants grew to a height of two metres within ten months and finally flowered in the March of this year (2011). This is just one of the many species from the UKOTs which are growing and flowering here at Kew as part of our conservation programme to germinate and cultivate threatened species from the Territories. 

- Marcela -

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Comments

9 May 2011
Comment: 
Pitcairn horticulturists have grown plants from seed which were collected from the last remain plant in the wild. Being able to grow the plant using material which has come from the territory itself ensure that no pest or disease is carried back to Pitcairn Island on plant material or soil.
17 April 2011
Comment: 
Very exciting this plant has been saved. It's beautiful. Will cuttings now go back to Pitcairn?

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