Common name: Ebony
Scientific name:Trochetiopsis ebenus
IUCN status: Endangered
Historical records indicate the ebony was once an abundant tree that grew on the south wesstern parts of the island. Its decline resulted by the introduction of goats around thte 16th century. Its former distribution can be certain in some places where the occasional wood or roots may still be found washed out of the soil by periodic rains. Occasionally, a piece of the once prized wood known for its rarity, may still be found wahed up on the south western shores of the island.
The destruction of the ebony was so immense that only dead stumps were soon left in some places. These were then used for the burning of lime, hence the name (lime kilns) at Sandy Bay. By 1771 it was “nearly extinct” and was finally assumed to be ectinct by 1850.
It was not until November 1980 when two small bushes were re-dicovered by Quentin Cronk and George Benjamin on the cliff between Lot’s Wife and the Asses Ears. The ebony is more drought tolerant than the Redwood therefore enabling it to survive at lower altitudes. Current experiences indicate that the ebony is a low spreaading shrub, though records showed that it used to grow to a height of 4 metres.
The St. Helena ebony is a small shrub with horizontal stems. The leaves are approximately 75mm in long, dark green in colour with brown hairs on the underside. The flowers are white with a dark purple centre. They are 75mm in diameter when open, and protrubes from the plant. As the flower ages, it turns pink before forming a seed pod. The ebony may blossom throughout the year, but mostly in the months of June to August.
NUMBER OF SURVIVING POPULATIONS
There are omly two ebony plants in the wild which can be found growing on the cliff between Lot’s Wife and the Asses Ears. These are called the upper and lower clone plants. previous cuttings were succesfully propagated and seeds germinated to a very high standard. These plants were planted at Ponceys, High Peak and Ebony Plain as a mixture, except for Pounceys two plants have been identified as an upper and a lower clone.
CONSERVATION RECOVERY PROGRAMMES
From the ebony cuttings collected, there are now over hundreds of cultivated populations. Despite the case of propagation, what is being conserved is an ecotype with a small genetic base and not ebony in the former sense of that species.
The only two plants from which we can obtain sedd and cuttings will be from the upper and lower plants at Pounceys.
The Enviromental Conservation Section has, and will continue to cross pollinate, collect and sow seeds to increase the population.
A seed orchard will be set up at Scotland to restock the population of ebonies to save them from extinction.