Plant Collector – Pennantia baylisiana (they don't come any more endangered than this ONE was)

Pennantia baylisiana - just the one single plant has ever been found

Pennantia baylisiana – just the one single plant has ever been found

If ever there was a strong argument for putting plants into commercial production in order to save them, it is this rare, native tree. Along with our native climbing Tecomanthe speciosa, only one plant of each has ever been found in the wild. In fact both the tecomanthe and pennantia are from Manawa Tawhi, the Great Island of the Three Kings group, where goats threatened their very survival as a species. Both were found around 1945-6. Duncan and Davies Nurseries succeeded in growing the pennantia from cutting and distributing the plants. Our plant dates back to that – probably in the early 1960s. It is still only a small tree, maybe 4 metres tall, with handsome, large, shiny recurved leaves. Being a subtropical plant from a mild climate, it needs to be largely frost free.

The problem with there being only one known specimen and reproducing it from cutting is that no matter how many plants you distribute, they are all identical clones so lacking any genetic variation. However, the original plant finally set viable seed in 1989 and there are now seedling grown plants in existence which should strengthen the genetic base. Penanntias are dioecious which means there are male plants and female plants. Fortunately the last known plant on the planet was female and occasionally, female dioecious plants can produce a little pollen and therefore self pollinate and produce seed. Our tree has set seed but as there appears to be a plant of Pennantia corymbosa in the neighbourhood, most of the seedlings have proven to be hybrids between the two, which is not what we are after at all. Mark was thrilled to finally get one seedling which seems to be true to P. baylisiana.

Our pennantia does not appear to be deep rooted - or it didn't appreciate recent strong winds

Our pennantia does not appear to be deep rooted – or it didn’t appreciate recent strong winds

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

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