Geography and distribution
Two year seedlings of Gardenia nitida (Photo: L. Sanou)
Native to west tropical Africa, including Benin, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Burkina Faso.
A small tree or undershrub, about 1.5-2.0 m tall, with smooth bark and glossy, dark green leaves. The strongly-scented flowers are white, turning golden-yellow, and the oblong fruits are hard and woody.
Gardenia nitida is sometimes planted in villages in west Africa, being thought to have sacred and protective properties. In Ghana, its wood is put on the roofs of houses to ward off lightning strikes.
In the traditional medicine of the Krobo people in Ghana the roots are ground up with a boiled egg and given to women as an aid to conception. The ripe fruit is occasionally eaten.
Gardenias are widely grown as exotic ornamentals - as houseplants or glasshouse plants in temperate regions, and as outdoor plants in tropical regions.
Gardenia nitida has long been recognised as having ornamental value, especially on account of its handsome glossy, dark green leaves and fragrant flowers. William J. Hooker’s original description in 1847, for example, refers to the flowers as being ‘among the larger of the genus’ and ‘deliciously scented… the corolla is of the purest white’ and adds that this species ‘though shrubby, is eminently suited to ''pot culture”.’
Today, G. nitida is in cultivation and can be obtained from some tropical plant nurseries.
Seed-collecting amongst panthers and lions
The Burkina Faso Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) Team was keen to find and collect seeds from Gardenia nitida, which is considered rare and endangered in Burkina Faso, and so the team arranged an expedition to the Folonzo and Diefoula forests in 2006.
Seeds of Gardenia nitida (Photo: L. Sanou)
Despite hours of exhausting search along the river Comoe confluences, the team was unsuccessful in its hunt for this elusive member of the coffee family. Then, during a second expedition to the area in March 2007, after walking for four hours and covering more than 10 km along the gallery forest of the Comoe-Leraba, they suddenly saw a single G. nitida tree in a dense patch of forest. After studying this tree they went on to find another, about 5 m beyond the first, and then a third about 20 m away. Despite an extensive search of the area within a 2 km radius, only five trees were found in total. Fortunately, these trees were in fruit, and so the team was able to collect seeds.
Despite temperatures close to 35˚C, and their exhaustion due to the long day, the team members were able to pick the fruits and return to base before it was dark. This was a terrifying race against time, as predators such as lions and panthers, are common in the area, and come out at nightfall.
Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
Herbarium specimen of Gardenia nitida collected by T.W. Brown in Ghana in 1889.
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: Average 1,000 seed weight = 7.71 g
Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: One
Seed storage behaviour: Probably orthodox* (seed germinated after drying) (the seeds of this plant survive drying without significant reduction in their viability, and are therefore amenable to long-term frozen storage such as at the MSB)
Germination testing: 75% of dried seeds germinated at 25ºC
Composition values: Not analysed
Herbarium specimens and conservation
The discovery that Gardenia nitida is a distinct species was made possible by the collection and subsequent careful storage of a herbarium specimen, from which a viable seed was taken and grown on.
Many more species may lie waiting to be discovered in this way amongst the 8 million dried plant specimens housed in Kew’s Herbarium. With current high rates of deforestation and habitat degradation there is concern that some species may go extinct before they have even been scientifically named.
The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership offers hope for an ever-growing number of species, as part of the wider conservation work of Kew.
The details of some of these specimens can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.