Following an enquiry, I’ve looked out some thought-provoking specimens this week. I spent a quite melancholy afternoon searching our database with plant names listed as extinct or extinct in the wild in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Here are a few of them:
Bromus interruptus (interrupted brome) was an agricultural weed found in southern and eastern England, but it became extinct as agricultural practices changed. The species is thought to have originated in Britain in the 19th century, but it was no longer found growing wild by 1972. However, this species is counted as extinct in the wild as seeds were collected from the last population and were cultivated in botanic gardens. Subsequently it has been re-introduced to the english countryside in the hope that it can re-establish itself.
This pretty red seaweed, however, is thought to be fully extinct. Vanvoorstia bennettiana (Bennett’s seaweed) has only been collected twice, once in 1855 and again 1886 from two different locations in and around Sydney Harbour. Despite extensive searches, this species seems to be extinct, perhaps because of disturbance and pollution of its habitat.
Finally, this is Melicope cruciata (cross bearing pelea), a tree in the citrus family which only ever grew on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Rather poignantly, these seeds have been labelled and stored since their collection in 1895. This week, scientists from Russia have reported that the have successfully regenerated plants from 33,000 year-old seeds of Silene stenophylla which were found buried in the Siberian permafrost. However, I imagine that our cross-bearing pelea seeds have experienced much more variable conditions over their 117 year storage and are unlikely to still be viable.