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Extinction Watch: Pennantia Baylisiana is back from the brink

Endemic to theThree Kings Islands(Maori: Manawatawhi),New Zealand, only one plant is known to exist in the wild. Four trees were released on the island in 1889 as a food source for possible shipwreck victims, and the population increased one hundredfold until the goats appeared.

Goats ate several island plant species out of existence, but the kaikomako survived because of its location. It lived out of reach in a steep boulder fi eld 700 feet above the ocean.

In 1945, the tree, also known as ‘Kaikomako Manawa Tawhi’, was visited by professor Geoff Baylis, who brought a cutting back to Auckland and nurtured it to maturity at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR). Then began the slow journey to its revival. Forty years later, geneticist and mycologist Dr Ross Beever, a scientist from Manaaki Whenua, noticed that the cutting-grown female plant had produced fruit on a cluster of fl owers. However it withered, and no viable seeds were produced.

Dr Beever applied a plant hormone to the seed head, enabling it to produce mature seeds. Then Beever and nursery owner Geoff Davidson raised six trees that produced thousands of seeds. The government’s recovery programme started in 2005. Researchers took back 4,000 seeds to Manawatawhi. By 2012, the team had celebrated 65 tiny successes. In 2013, when it was last assessed, IUCN listed the species as critically endangered.

Maori believe that when they die, their spirit travels to Manawatawhi for a fi nal glance back at Aotearoa, their home, New Zealand.

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