Plantago moorei (Moore's plantain)
Forming low cushions of densely packed hairy leaves, Moore’s plantain survives the harsh drying winds, cool temperatures and strong ultraviolet light prevailing in the Falkland Islands.
About this species
Moore’s plantain is one of the 13 species of flowering plants and ferns unique (endemic) to the Falkland Islands. It grows in a very restricted area and is well-adapted to its harsh environment. The first specimen of Plantago moorei was collected by botanist David Moore in 1964, but it was not described as a new species for two decades. It was finally described by Danish botanist Knud Rahn in 1984.
Geography & Distribution
Moore’s plantain is restricted to the south-west coast of West Falkland. The coastline around Port Stephens has recently been identified as an Important Plant Area (IPA) because it contains over 95% of the world's population of Moore’s plantain, together with a significant proportion of the world population's of false plantain (Nastanthus falklandicus, family Calyceraceae), which is also restricted to the south-western Falkland Islands.
Plantago moorei forms low cushions or large hummocks up to 1.5 m in diameter and 23 cm high, made up of densely branched stems bearing tightly packed rosettes of leaves. Coarse white hairs cover the upper surface of the thick, grey leaves. The leaves are up to 13 mm long and 3.6 mm wide. The tiny flowers are borne in pairs and are protected by two hooded bracts (modified leaves).
Threats & Conservation
Herbarium specimen of Plantago moorei (Image: RBG Kew)
Current major threats to Moore’s plantain are trampling by grazing livestock, fire (caused accidentally by humans or by lightning strikes) and storms, which accelerate the erosion of its habitat. The rapid spread of invasive mouse-ear hawkweed (Pilosella officinarum) could cause severe problems for Plantago moorei if not controlled.
Although the seeds of Moore’s plantain are very difficult to collect, over 4,000 have been obtained from wild populations. Collectors have to remove the top of each fruit capsule and carefully extract the two seeds, often using tweezers. The seeds are held in safe storage in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. Kew staff members have been involved in training Falkland Island volunteers in seed collection techniques to increase seed bank stocks.
A batch of 100 seeds was recently sent back to the Falklands for use in an ongoing conservation strategy. Other current conservation activities on the islands include germination of seedlings in local nurseries to produce stock plants for habitat restoration. Organisers are also encouraging the public to grow propagated Moore’s plantains in their gardens.
Collaboration for conservation
Plantago moorei habitat (Image: Colin Clubbe)
Until 2007, the entire known world population of Moore’s plantain consisted of only a few cushions found in a single place. Since then, more cushions have been discovered during surveys carried out for the Falkland Islands Plant Conservation project, growing at different sites along the Port Stephens coastline, taking the total number of known plants to over 1,000.
This project, carried out by Falklands Conservation and the Falkland Islands Government in partnership with Kew is funded by the Overseas Territories Environment Programme, and supports the development of a long-term strategy to conserve the islands’ native plants, including the identification of Important Plant Areas and Species Action Plans for threatened species.
By taking part in joint vegetation surveys and seed-collecting expeditions, Kew staff share their expertise with local conservation organisations and volunteers on the islands. Kew’s Conservation Genetics team has been studying the DNA profiles of different sub-populations of Moore’s plantain to find out more about possible hybridisation.
There are currently no known uses of Moore’s plantain, but other members of the genus Plantago have a variety of medicinal properties.
Plantago moorei seedling (Image: Yangchen Lin, Imperial College)
Seedlings produced during germination tests at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank are being grown in Kew’s nursery glasshouses. They were moved from agar germination plates to pots of compost at the two seed-leaf stage. As these seedlings are particularly susceptible to drying out under glasshouse conditions, the pots are covered with plastic hoods to reduce moisture loss.
Although Moore’s plantain grows on peaty soils in its natural habitat, at Kew it is grown on gritty, well-drained compost. Germination and cultivation trials are underway to determine the best conditions for growing Plantago moorei.
Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
Description of seeds: Small, 1.0-1.5 mm diameter, circular-oval shape.
Number of collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: One (comprising 4,100 seeds, 100 of which have since been repatriated to the Falklands).
Germination testing: Germination of stored seeds has been carried out successfully.
Moore's plantain at Kew
Moore’s plantain is displayed in the South America area of the Rock Garden at Kew. There are also preserved specimens of Plantago moorei in Kew’s Herbarium, which are available to researchers by appointment.
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