For the first time ever, visitors to Kew will be able to see two unique plants from the Caribbean island of Montserrat (normally kept safely behind the scenes) during the Volunteer Guides' hands-on sessions in this year’s Tropical Extravaganza.
Seeds of the orchid Epidendrum montserratense and the shrub Rondeletia buxifolia (a member of the coffee family) arrived at Kew from Montserrat in 2006, collected during research there by members of the UK Overseas Territories team. Since then, Kew staff have been carefully propagating the plants and finding out about the conditions they need to thrive. Visit the Volunteer Guides’ hands-on sessions in the Secluded Garden Conservatory during Tropical Extravaganza to get a glimpse of these rare plants - still in the preliminary stages of cultivation - and find out more about Kew’s conservation activities on Montserrat.
Elfin woodland covers the tops of Montserrat's highest peaks (Image: Carole McCauley, Centre Hills Project)
The West Indian island of Montserrat is one of the UK’s Overseas Territories (UKOTs). It is part of the Caribbean biodiversity hotspot, recognised for the large number of endemic plants and animals that live nowhere else in the world. Like other mountainous islands within the biodiversity hotspot, Montserrat supports many different habitat types, due to the wide variation of soils, temperature and rainfall. It has nearly 800 native plant species, three of them endemic – Epidendrum montserratense, Rondeletia buxifolia and Xylosma serrata (which is believed to be extinct, as a result of the devastating volcanic eruptions suffered by the island between 1995 and 1997).
Examining plant specimens amidst volcanic ash in Montserrat's original herbarium (Image: RBG Kew)
During field work on Montserrat, Kew conservationists rediscovered R. buxifolia, using plant specimens and information which had lain untouched in offices in the island’s capital since the volcanic eruptions. They collected seed from the shrubs and brought them back to Kew, where they were sown in the nursery glasshouses. Under the watchful eyes of Kew’s Tropical Nursery Team, the plants grew rapidly and flowered in 2008.
Rescued specimen of Epidendrum montserratense (Image: RBG Kew)
The epiphytic orchid Epidendrum montserratense lives high above the ground, supported by tree trunks and branches. Many of the old mango trees that hosted the orchid had been damaged by volcanic ash or were threatened by flash floods. Some Epidendrum plants were carefully transplanted to the newly established Montserrat Botanic Garden, whilst seed pods collected from others were dispatched to the Conservation Biotechnology Section (CB) at Kew. The CB team germinated the minute seeds on a sterile culture medium and dozens of the seedlings raised this way have now been transferred to the orchid zones of the Tropical Nursery.
Epidendrum montserratense seedlings are grown under sterile conditions (Image: RBG Kew)
Kew’s UKOT’s team continues to work with partners, on Montserrat and internationally, on conservation projects designed to protect the remaining areas of undamaged forest and to ensure the survival of the island’s native plants.
- Pat -
UKOTs bloggers (left to right): Sara Bárrios, Pat Griggs, Colin Clubbe, Marcella Corcoran, Tom Heller, Martin Hamilton.
Using modern plant specimens collected in the field and historic specimens held in Kew’s Herbarium, together with detailed habitat descriptions and other field information, we are documenting the plant diversity of the UKOTs. We are making this information accessible via the UKOTs Online Herbarium. This resource, together with the field research, enables us to undertake conservation assessments, produce Red Lists of threatened species, and rank potentially invasive species – all of which underpin the development of management plans to protect the UKOTs’ plant heritage.
The UKOTs bloggers are:
- Colin Clubbe (Head of UKOTs and Conservation Training)
- Martin Hamilton (UKOTs Programme Co-ordinator)
- Marcella Corcoran (UKOTs Programme Officer – Horticultural Liaison)
- Sara Bárrios (UKOTs Programme Officer – GSPC Targets 1&2 OTEP Project)
- Pat Griggs (UKOTs Public Engagement Officer)
- Tom Heller (UKOTs Millennium Seed Bank Officer)
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