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Mellissia begoniifolia (St Helena boxwood)

Having virtually disappeared from its natural habitat for the second time, St Helena boxwood is kept safe in cultivation in Kew's glasshouses.
St Helena boxwood in flower

St Helena boxwood in flower.

Species information

Scientific name: 

Mellissia begoniifolia (Roxb.) Hook.f.

Common name: 

St Helena boxwood

Conservation status: 

Categorised as Critically Endangered when last assessed for the IUCN Red List in 2003. As there are currently no adult flowering plants on St Helena, this species is now considered to be effectively extinct in the wild.


Found growing between scree boulders on dry rocky slopes where the soil is poor and very little other vegetation survives.

Known hazards: 

No known hazards, although many other plants belonging to the same plant family (the potato family - Solanaceae) contain toxic chemicals.


Genus: Mellissia

About this species

St Helena boxwood was discovered in the early 1800s, but by 1875 it had greatly declined in numbers, possibly as it occupied a difficult habitat with poor dry soils and was affected by insect pests and introduced grazing animals. It was subsequently believed to have vanished from the island for more than a century, until a local conservationist rediscovered a few plants at the end of the 1990s. By early 2010, just a single ailing plant survived in the wild and this has now died. A glimmer of hope emerged as a few seedlings germinated (from seeds present in the soil) in the species’ natural habitat, but their survival in the wild cannot be guaranteed.

Conservationists at Kew and on St Helena are now working hard to bring St Helena boxwood back from the brink of extinction.


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