Two species of trees thought to be extinct were recently rediscovered in a remote coastal forest area in the African nation of Tanzania. Erythrina schliebenii, a type of coral tree, and Karomia gigas were rediscovered by botanists from Tanzania’s University of Dar es Salaam. While the finding of their continued growth is immensely encouraging, the species remain in “critical danger of extinction,” according to Roy Gereau, of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Africa and Madagascar Department, as rapid deforestation persists in Tanzania.
The areas in which the coral tree has previously been known to grow have repeatedly been cleared for farmland. Erythrina schliebenii, which reportedly features “spectacular red flowers and vicious spines along its trunk,” was collected by botanists in the 1930s from an area later cleared for a cashew plantation. According to the Huffington Post it was “It was listed as “Extinct” on the IUCN Red List in 1998, but was rediscovered in a small patch of unprotected forest in 2001.” In 2008 that forest area was cleared to make way for biofuel farmland, and botanists believed the tree to be lost.
The second species, Karomia gigas, did not meet with such an aggressive fate – rather it appeared to have difficulty sustaining its growth. One specimen was found in 1977, and a second was discovered “in a tiny fragment of a forest” in Tanzania in 1993, some 400 miles from the original specimen. When botanists returned to the same area on a more recent study, they found no instances of the tree, and feared the worst.
While the rediscovery of these species is certainly cause for celebration, the report’s authors estimate that there remains fewer than 50 known instances of each species. The botanists’ announcement comes with significant concerns for the future of the trees as population growth leads to increasing deforestation in Tanzania.
As forest areas continue to be cleared to meet the need for fuel and food, the deforestation not only poses a risk to endangered species of trees, but also threatens rare species of wildlife. MongaBay.com reports that of 1898 known species of amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles in Tanzania, 9% exist in no other country. This threat to endangered life adds further credence to efforts to stem CO2-emitting deforestation, which also reduces habitat for Chimpanzees and was believed to be contributing to the melting of Mount Kilamanjaro’s Peak.
A botanist at the University Der es Salaam, Cosmas Mligo, explained to Our Amazing Planet: “Erythrina schliebenii has survived only because it grows in rocky areas that are not usually cleared for cultivation, but even those areas will be cleared one day if nothing is done.”
Lead Photo © Frank Mbago via Flickr