Common name: Redwood
Scientific name: Trochetiopsis erythroxylon
IUCN status: Extinct in the wild
When the island was first discovered, redwoods were found grorwing in large numbers in the upland areas below the tree fern thicket. Redwoods grew with a straight trunk to give a medium sized tree of about six metres.
The Redwood was the most valuable endemic tree to settlers on the Island because it produced a fine hard grain timber and the bark of the tree was used for tanning the hides of cattle. Very quickly nearly all the trees were cutdown or barked, resulting in the redwood nearly becoming extinct as early at 1718. Since 1718, redwoods have remained very rare, only being recorded near Diana’s Peak and High Peak. By the twentieth century, redwoods were only found growing in private gardens and a single tree ner High Peak.
Today the redwood only grows to three metres in height, no longer able to reach heights of six metres due to inbreeding. Some trees still grow with single straight trunk although others are considerable dwarfed and mis-shapen.’The leaves are pale green, older leaves quickly turn yellow and speckled and fall, about 75mm long and 50 to 60 mm wide. The main flowering season is in November but flowers can be produced throughout the year. The flowers are about 75mm long and open up to 50mm in diameter and hang down from the tree. At first they are pure white, turning pink with age so that finally the dying flower is deep red.
NUMBER OF SURVIVING POPULATION
The redwood is extinct in the wild. This means that there are no longer any natural populations surviving in their native habitat of the Cabbage Tree Woodland. The last tree to survive in the wild which grew below the waterfall at Peak Gut died in the early 1960’s. Norman Williams recalls the tree as being about four metres in height with a spreading canopy of four main limbs. A seedling if this tree was planted at Red Rock but this died in 1992. Another seedling was planted at Scotland which died in 1988. This tree was dwarfed because it lacked a strong leader. Seedlings from the old Scotland and Red Rock trees still survive at Scotland, High Peak and Mount Pleasant. All of these seedlings are from self-pollinate and thus are very in-bred.
In April 1997 the first ever cross-pollinated redwood seedlings were planted out in a seed orchard within the Diana’s Peak National park. These seedlings could mark a recovery in the health of the redwood. If not improvement in the growth of redwoods happens then this could mark the inevitable extinction of the species because its genetic base has been irretrievably weakaned.
CONSERVATION RECOVERY PROGRAMME
The redwood is the subject of a genetic improvement programme. That is, we are trying to improve the growth and health of the species through cross-pollinations and selecting the fittest seedlings to be part of our recovery work. It is hoped that by selecting only the fittest seedlings and using these as the parents of the next generation of redwoods improvements can be made. The aim is to get to a point when the redwoods are fit enough to be reintroduced in to a wild situation and be able to regenerate naturally. If this cannot be acheived because the genetic base of the species has been destroyed, then the redwood’s fate will be like that of the dodo.