In a ceremony last week at the Tropical Nurseries in Kew Gardens, London, Sir David Attenborough donated a collection of seeds from Rapa Nui (Easter Island) to the Kew nursery.
Dr Sonia Haoa Cardinalli, a Raoa Nui archaeologist and author of Cultural and Environmental Changes of Rapa Nui presented 31 seeds of Sophora toromiro to Sir Attenborough, who then donated the seeds to his ‘friends at Kew’.
Sophora toromiro, commonly known as the toromiro tree, is a plant from the legume family that is endemic to the remote Pacific island of Rapa Nui.
The plant has been classified as Extinct in the Wild by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since the 1960s.
Its place on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has been attributed to human activities, such as deforestation and the introduction of agricultural animals to the island in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl found one surviving toromiro tree in the 1950s, which were subsequently sent to Gothenburg Botanical Garden in Sweden, with specimens later cultivated at a botanical garden in Mention, France.
And while the last surviving specimen on Rapa Nui has long vanished, with the toromiro plants still in cultivation in botanic gardens around the world.
Director of gardens at RBG Kew, Richard Barley MBE, says: “Faced with the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, botanical gardens across the world are on the frontline of the battle to protect our natural world, and as the shepherds of the world’s most biodiverse collection of living plants, RBG Kew will be a perfect new home for the seeds.”
Attempts to reintroduce the plant to Rapa Nui have seen some degree of success with a number of specimens now growing on the island.