Monday, April 6, 2009

Help find first male of the species ...

Please help us find the first male of the species Pennantia Baylisiana.

Conservation status
Critically endangered
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Apiales
Family: Pennantiaceae (or Icacinaceae)
Genus: Pennantia
Species: P. baylisiana
Binomial name
Pennantia baylisiana
(W. Oliver) Baylis

Pennantia baylisiana is a species of plant in the Pennantiaceae family (Icacinaceae in older classifications). It is endemic to the Three Kings Islands, New Zealand, where only one plant is known to exist. It is threatened by habitat loss. Pennantia baylisiana was listed as one of the world's rarest plants by the Guiness Book of Records. The single tree known in the wild grows on a scree slope on the northern face of Great Island in the Three Kings group off Cape Reinga, New Zealand. It was discovered in 1945 by Professor Geoff Baylis of the University of Otago.


Oratia Native Plant Nursery
625 West Coast Road
Oratia, Auckland 0604, New Zealand
+64 9 818 6467

From the brink of extinction on the Three Kings Islands

The plant was rescued from the brink of extinction. In 1946 botanists found one specimen surviving in the Three Kings Islands..

Pennantia baylisiana is an attractive specimen tree from the Three Kings Islands.
When discovered only one plant was know to exist in the wild.
It has large oval, leathery leaves of a deep glossy green with rolled back margins.
  • H 6m x W 2m
  • Full sun or semi-shade
  • Tolerates coastal conditions
  • Frost tender
New Zealand's rarest tree —
its discovery and propagation

Reproduced from an article by Professor G. T. S. Baylis

From The New Zealand Garden Journal (Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture), Vol. 2, No. 1, March 1997, pp. 12-13.

The only remaining tree in the wildT. F. Cheeseman was an early Director of the Auckland Museum. He was also the first botanical explorer of the Three Kings Islands. On his visits in 1887 and 1889 he had only a few hours ashore, yet he found six new plants. A more thorough search was clearly warranted but it was not until 1945 that the Museum arranged for a scientific party to camp on the main island. I was the botanist. By this time wild goats had eaten the place out. Part was closely browsed grass but most was kanuka forest or scrub. Cheeseman's novelties survived in small numbers beyond browse range. It was easy to see that the grassland offered nothing new, but the kanuka canopy was broken here and there by other textures and shades of green. I located these places by climbing trees at every vantage point and reached them deviously via bluffs and screes since except in the main valley they were, even for goats, a bit inaccessible.

In these clumps such things as puriri, mahoe and mangeao persisted and I soon found the liane Tecomanthe speciosa and the rangiora with a corky trunk like a cabbage tree - Brachyglottis arborescens. The last little grove that I investigated lay near the highest point of the island down a scree of boulders about 200m above the sea. I was drawn to it by what looked like a karaka. I was soon gazing upon it in disbelief since a third find seemed too much to expect. But this was no karaka - its leaves were larger and recurved strongly in the sun, its bunches of small green flowers sprang from the bare branches below the leaves and there were no big berries - indeed none at all.

Dr W. R. B. Oliver, our last true biologist equally authoritative about animals or plants was anxious to identify my finds and I sent them to him. Lacking time and experience, I feared I might blunder by getting a family wrong. This danger proved real indeed, for Oliver himself put the pseudo-karaka in the Anacardiaceae, which is close to the karaka family, whereas had I been able to send fruits he would have realized that the resemblance to karaka is misleading, the proper family being Icacinaceae to which Pennantia belongs.

It was a European botanist working with herbarium sheets who realised that the Three Kings specimens were Pennantia: indeed concluded that the tree was just a stray P. endlicheri from Norfolk Island. But herbarium sheets don't tell all - thicker leaves recurving curiously in the sun, stouter stems and flowers on leafless branches rather than at the ends of twigs so distinguish the Three Kings tree, that the two have little resemblance. So when our Flora is next revised either the definition of Pennantia will be broadened to accommodate cauliflory (flowers arising on old wood) or Oliver's genus Plectomirtha will reappear as a member of the Icacinaceae. The former seems the wiser course as P. baylisiana does occasionally flower at a branch tip. Moreover, the objective of taxonomy is to synthesise and there is no synthesis when a species has a genus to itself.

Foliage and flowers

Propagating this lone and sterile tree, not in the best of health because of insect damage, seemed urgent. There was a detachable shoot at its base which took root in a damp sheltered place in my Dunedin garden and is now very like its parent with four slender trunks. But its canopy trimmed by occasional frost rather than repeated salty gales is taller (7m).

While I was unsure that this shoot had really rooted, I was worried by failure both at the Plant Diseases Division at Mt Albert and at Duncan and Davies, New Plymouth to strike cuttings from the crown. I asked George Smith the chief propagator at New Plymouth what I might do to provide better cuttings. "Cut the tree down" he said, and while I shuddered at the thought he explained that he was confident about rooting shoots from the stump. But would there be any? Well, the tree had four trunks so I dared to sever one. A year later the shoots were there, the Naval launch on which I was a guest gave them a quick passage to New Plymouth which happened to be its next port and Mr Smith soon placed the survival of "Plectomirtha" beyond doubt.

Cultivation of Pennantia baylisiana

It is now 50 years since the tree was discovered and it is still not common in cultivation. This is because the species is dioecious, the sole remaining tree being female. Whilst some self-pollination does occur, nearly all the fruit produced are sterile. In cultivation the species readily cross-pollinates with the kaikomako, Pennantia corymbosa, producing hybrids with intermediate features. One selection from this cross has been named Pennantia 'Otari Debut'.

Propagation is from hardwood cuttings taken in autumn. Rooting can take up to 10 months and young plants will often collapse and die in the first twelve months.

Plants are easy to grow provided they are given protection from frost, and can tolerate shade, growing well under the canopy of larger trees. Trees tend to produce multiple stems and can grow to more than 5 metres high. The main ornamental value of the tree is its large glossy foliage, looking as Professor Baylis said, like large karaka leaves.

Mature trees in cultivation can be seen at the Otari Native Botanic Garden, the Auckland University Grounds, and at HortResearch, Mount Albert, Auckland.

Notes on cultivation by Mike Oates

Sometimes known as the “Three Kings Climber”. The plant was rescued from the brink of extinction. In 1946 botanists found one specimen surviving in the Three Kings Islands and the plants in New Zealand gardens today have descended from this single specimen. It is a climber with glossy green leaves and clusters of gorgeous cream and very fragrant tubular flowers.

The Clematis is a climbing plant found throughout New Zealand. The large white flowers bloom abundantly in spring. Traditionally the leaves and sap were used to treat skin wounds. Bark shavings were used to counteract head cold symptoms.

Many varieties of Hebe grow throughout New Zealand in a wide variety of colors. Traditionally the leaves were used in a distillation as a tonic, to heal internal organs. Externally, poultices were applied to the skin to heal skin disorders.

The magnificent yellow flowers of the Kowhai tree announce the arrival of spring in New Zealand. This was a signal to the Maori (indigenous people of New Zealand) to plant the sweet potato. The Maori traditionally made a poultice from the bark of the Kowhai and applied it to wounds.

The Manuka is one of the most common botanical species in New Zealand. It is well known for the healing properties of its oil and the remarkable Manuka honey. The Maori used the leaves and flowers of the Manuka to treat a range of skin problems. The crushed leaves were traditionally applied as a poultice to help heal and reduce the risk of wound infections.

The Pohutukawa is commonly known as the New Zealand Christmas tree. It flowers throughout December and January. Maori (indigenous people of New Zealand) predicted a long hot summer if the tree flowered early. For most New Zealander's the Pohutukawa heralds the arrival of summer. Traditionally used by Maori for its healing properties.

Current Threat Status : Nationally Critical
Threat Status in 2004: Nationally Critical
Structural Class : Dicotyledonous Trees & Shrubs
Species : Pennantia baylisiana
Authority : Pennantia baylisiana (W.R.B.Oliv.) G.T.S.Baylis
Qualifier : CD, OL, IE
Family : Pennantiaceae
Common Name : Three Kings Kaikomako
Synonyms : Plectomirtha baylisiana W.R.B.Oliv.
Distribution : Endemic to Great (Manawa Tawhi) Island, Three Kings Island group.
Habitat : Coastal Forest.
Features : Sturdy, multi-trunked tree 5-8 x 4 m tall. Bark greyish, tessellated. Young branches and branchlets lenticellate. Petiole 25 mm long. Leaves subcoriaceous, glabrescent, 120-160 x 70 -100 mm, oblong to obovate, in exposed conditions distinctly recurved, otherwise flat, margins entire, apex obtuse, rounded, or slightly emarginate; base cuneate to obtuse; lateral veins of underside subtended by axillary hairy, pocket-domatium. Inflorescence usually ramiflorous or cauliflorous, rarely terminal, 80-120 x 40-120 mm. Male flowers unknown. Female flowers 1.5 x 1.5 mm, petals 2.6 mm, greenish white, stamen filaments in bud kinked sideways, straightening at anthesis, 1.5 mm long; anther 1-1.4 mm, pollen usually malformed and sterile. Ovary barrel shaped, 2.8 x 2 mm; stigmatic ring 1.5-1.8 mm diam., crested into 3 triangular plates. Fruit ellipsoidal, 10 x 4.5 mm, flesh purple; stone 9 x 3.5 mm.
Similar Species : Morphologically similar to the Norfolk Island Pennantia endlicheri Reissek from which it differs by multi-trunked growth habit, the recurved leaves of exposed branchlets, and mainly ramiflorous or cauliflorous flowering habit. DNA sequences further separate both species. Kaikomako (Pennantia corymbosa J.R. Forest et G.Forst.) differs from both these species by its divaricating juvenile form, much smaller and distinctly toothed or lobed adult foliage.
Flowering : October-November
Fruiting : Fruiting occurs between January and April in cultivated material. Ripe fruit has been seen in the wild during February and March
Propagation Technique : Easily grown from seed, when viable non hybrid seed is available. Though the only known tree is functionally female, occasional viable fruit is now known to be produced both in the wild and in cultivation. However, if pure seed is desired, plants should grown well away from kaikomako (P. corymbosa) otherwise hybrid seed will be produced. This tree can also be grown from cuttings and basal portions of new stem stuckers. Neither media is easy to strike, and so until recently, this species was rarely seen in cultivation.
Threats : Only one tree occurs in the wild. Initially P. baylisiana and indeed all other Three Kings endemic plants were at serious risk from goats. These were successfully eradicated in 1946. Since then the tree has persisted despite periodic storm and drought damage which may kill entire trunks. However, being female the tree was until recently considered functionally extinct. Apparently viable fruits were first found in the wild in 1989, and these, along with fruiting cutting grown plants in New Zealand provide one source of securing the species. However, until such time as more trees occur in the wild, P. baylisiana remains seriously at risk of extinction through natural events such as storms or senescence through old age.
Where to Buy : Can be purchased from Oratia Native Plant Nurseries ( which sells seedlings.
Chromosome No. : 2n = 50
Endemic Taxon : Yes
Endemic Genus : No
Endemic Family : No
Cultural Use/Importance :
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