Common name: False gumwood
Scientific name: Commidendrum spurium
IUCN status: Critically endangered
The false gumwood is a small branching tree which was once a common species of moist gumwood woodland, growing at altitudes of about 500-650m above sea level. Also associated with this vegetation type were the redwood (now extinct in the wild), rosemary (critically endangered) and the gumwood (lost from this area but still surviving in drier areas). The moist gumwood woodland has been totally lost on St Helena: the only remaining example of gumwood woodland being that a Peak Dale which is a drier woodland then that which existed at higher and wetter altitudes.
Unlike the gumwoods and redwoods, which had great utiliarian value. Gumwoods were used for their timber (mainly roofing), for fuel and fooder (animals were allowed to graze in the woodland devouring young seedlings and barking trees), redwoods were once the most important timber species and their bark which is rich in tannins used to tan the hides of cattle. The false gumwood appears to have had little use. Why this species has become so rare today is most probably through the loss of its natural habitat through conversion of land for pasture, forestry and flax plantation. By 1875 the false gumwood was recorded as very rare by Mellis. By this time the redwood had almost become extinct in the wild.
The falsewood is a small tree growing to a height of 3 metres. It has a branching pattern like that of the other gumwood species. The leaves, which are light green and slightlu hairy, form clusters at the ends of the branches and are toothed. The flower head is densely packed with tiny petals (ray florets) and a yellow green centre (disc florets). Flowering occurs in December through March or April.
NUMBER OF SURVIVING POPULATIONS
Only ten trees now survive in the wild and these are located in three isolated populations. The largest is at Mount Vesey where eight trees of different ages cling precariously to the cliff edge. At Coles Rock a large mature tree of at least 3 metres in height grows directly up from its precarious cliff position. In pasture land at Oaklands another single individual remains stranded. At Pounceys six mature trees are growing, the offspring of the tree at Coles Rock.
CONSERVATION RECOVERY PROGRAMMES
In February and March last year (1996) seed was collected from the trees at Mount Vesey. This seed was subsequently germinated at the Endemic Nuresery and today over 2000 seedlings have been raised. Fortunately the false gumwood does not appear to have reproductive problems: seed are viable and germination is good. This in a stark contrast to the bastard gumwood for which seed viability is extremely low and no seeds have been successfully germinated recently.
With the permission of the owners of the land, the Envirnomental Conservation Section has vleared flax on Mount Vesey in preparation for planting these seedling back close to the existing trees. In the next few weeks (Jan 1997) it is planned that exotic weeds will also be cleared from around the tree at Coles Rock so that seedlings can also be planted.
This work is part of the recovery programme for the false gumwood. Our aims are to:
- Secure the population and individuals that still survive in the wild.
- Maintain the genetic diversity of the species by ensurring that what little diversity remains is maximised through planting efforts.
- Re-establish the false gumwood in areas where it once grew so that in the future they become naturally regenerated.
The planting at Mount Vesey will be used as a seed orchard where seed can be collected for use in future plantings.