kew.org > Kew Science > News > Plant story - a rare tree from Kenya, Aloe ballyi, has been saved by Millennium Seed Bank partners

Plant story - a rare tree from Kenya, Aloe ballyi, has been saved by Millennium Seed Bank partners

The seeds of a rare Aloe tree were collected in the Taita Hills of Kenya during a collaborative collecting mission involving the National Genebank of Kenya and the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership.

Introducing Aloe ballyi

  • Endemic to Kenya and Tanzania
  • Vulnerable species of high conservation concern

The Taita hills are located in the south west corner of the Coast region of Kenya, between the east and west zones of Tsavo National Park. These hills have been isolated ecologically for a long period of time, causing an endemic group of flora to establish. Aloe ballyi is confined to an area of dense bush near Mwatate, south west of Voi. This plant species was included in the 2002 IUCN Red List Index and has a 'Vulnerable' global conservation status, showing high conservation concern.
 

Collecting Aloe ballyi

Charles Ndiege of the National Genebank of Kenya and Paul Kirika of the National Museums of Kenya collecting Aloe ballyi (Photo: V. Sutcliffe © RBG Kew)

Conservation project

Aloe ballyi was included in a conservation project set up in 1996 by the East African Herbarium in Kenya, to protect a range of succulent species. Field studies were carried out to identify existing populations of the selected species. The conservation status of each was assessed and threats were documented. Seeds were gathered for ex situ conservation collections and herbarium specimens were taken for further research. A specimen of Aloe ballyi can now be found in the Succulent Garden of the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi.s ens were taken for further research. A specimen of Aloe ballyi

Found at the side of the road

Trees of Aloe ballyi were found at the side of the public road linking the two zones of Tsavo. Fruits were collected from a number of trees, yielding sufficient seeds for a collection to be banked at the National Genebank of Kenya (GBK) and duplicated at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank. As Aloe ballyi is now listed under CITES Appendix II, which lists species that are not currently threatened with extinction but that may become so unless harvesting is closely controlled, herbarium vouchers could not be collected.

Poisonous, but useful

This is one of the few poisonous aloes in Kenya, known commonly as the 'rat aloe' due to malodorous chemicals contained in its leaves. It is used medicinally as a purgative, for 'opening the bowels'. 

Story by Vanessa Sutcliffe, Millennium Seed Bank Partnership