ARS Victoria Newsletter – August 2018

  • Date: 3rd August 2018
  • author: Francis Crome


A recent article in the journal Oryx shows the importance of keeping records of plants in your garden. Dracaena umbraculifera was considered extinct and only “surviving” as cultivated specimens, not all definitively identified, in a few botanic gardens. The species was described from a specimen, supposedly from Mauritius, in the Schönbrunn botanic gardens in Vienna in 1791. It had never been seen in the wild by a botanist so was presumed extinct. A team from the Missouri Botanic Gardens thought it may not be a Mauritian species so collected material for genetic analysis from the type specimen and from living plants in the few botanic gardens that held plants under that name to compare with other species of Dracaena from Mauritius and Madagascar. While at the Mauritius herbarium they were told of a local gardener, Mr. Imran Vencapeh, who had a specimen, so they collected genetic material from that also. They later found that Mr Vencapeh had posted the locality of his plant, Ile Ste. Marie off the northeast coast of Madagascar, on the website Dave’s Garden in 2007.

The analyses showed that the type specimen, Mr Vencapeh’s plant and some of the cultivated specimens in botanic gardens were genetically close together but closer to other Madagascan species than to Mauritian ones. This strongly suggested Madagascar as D. umbraculifera’s origin. They ultimately located the plant in Madagascar at the place Mr Vencapeh said it came from. The interesting thing is that although the genetics indicated D. umbraculfera was closer to Madagascan species and thus more likely to be found in Madagascar than Mauritius, that information alone would have been unlikely to have enabled the plant to be rediscovered. Firstly, being genetically related to something else indicates you originated in the same place most likely but it does not necessarily mean you occur together now. Secondly, Madagascar is a huge place and the genetics cannot say where in Madagascar to look. Mr Vencapeh could.

The moral is that, if you are a collector, know the origins of the plants in your garden – they may help rediscover a lost species or rescue an endangered one. The plants you grow can be incredibly useful.

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