Plant collectors and the nursery trade don’t always have the proudest record when it comes to preserving desirable plant species in the wild. It was the habit of stripping material for commercial gain that saw flora as well as fauna being protected by CITES*. But there are exceptions and our native climber, Tecomanthe speciosa, is one example.
It was down to just the one, single, solitary specimen ever found and I think it is still down to just the one plant in the wild. Arguably it is the nursery trade and the popularising of it as a garden plant that saved it from extinction.
The same situation applies to Pennantia baylisiana, found at the same time on the same island. We have that growing in our garden too. One of the species of our native kakabeak, Clianthus puniceus, has never been reduced to just one plant but it is critically endangered with just one small location in the wild on Moturemu Island in the Kaipara Harbour. Circulating these plants in the garden trade doesn’t alter the situation of them being endangered in the wild due to loss of habitat, but it does stop them being wiped out entirely.
The tecomanthe was found on Manawatāwhi (formerly referred to as the Great Island in the Three Kings group to the north west off the top tip of New Zealand. It was found in 1946 and it is thought that the introduction of goats to the island had led to the extinction of all but the remaining plant. I understand the goats were introduced to provide food for shipwrecked sailors. With the eradication of goats, vegetation on that island has regenerated to the point where that last plant has become heavily shaded and it has hardly flowered since that year of discovery.
The tecomanthe is climbing vine, subtropical and therefore frost tender but well adapted to coastal conditions. Its foliage is relatively large, lush and shiny and I can’t get a photo because it is all right up on top, maybe 10 metres above. Fortunately, it doesn’t only flower right at the top but can put clusters of blooms out on its bare lower lengths of vine.
I didn’t know until I looked it up that T. speciosa is best grown from fresh seed and can flower within a couple of years whereas it takes much longer for a cutting-grown plant to start flowering. I am guessing most plants sold in the trade are cutting grown.
The potential is there for this vine to become a gnarly old plant – as ours has – with very thick trunks which may smother and even fell the host tree it clambers up for support but that will take many decades. I have seen tecomanthes trained along front verandahs but they do need training and pruning. Left to their own devices, they may rip the guttering off the house if you turn your back on them but at least you can get most of the flowering at eye-level with a bit of effort. It is probably safer to train a plant along a fence or a wall but whatever location is chosen, it needs a strong support.
We grow two other tecomanthe species but both are more tender than T. speciosa because they come from New Guinea. Tecomanthe venusta (syn dendrophylla) needs to be under the cover of a verandah this far south but can be grown outdoors in Northland. The dainty one we have as T. montana (which may or may not be the correct botanical name) is arguably the prettiest of the three. We did have T. hillii which is native to Queensland but it succumbed to neglect.
None of the tecomanthe species are common in New Zealand but only one of them is extra special for the patriotic gardener. Fancy being a direct descendant of the one sole, surviving plant. They don’t come more endangered than that.
*CITES stands for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora