Keep your eyes peeled on your next trip through the Climatron, and you may spot the beautiful flower of Nesocodon mauritianus. It’s the first time the Garden has been able to put this rare plant on display—and the latest development in our efforts to save this showy species.
What is it?
Nesocodon mauritianus is a small shrubby plant that grows just one place on the planet: high on a towering cliff, next to a rushing waterfall, on the small Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. It’s foliage is rather unremarkable. The flower is the real show-stopper—a bell-shaped, bluish-purple bloom with dark purple veins.
It stands out in other ways as well. While most plants produce clear nectar, Nesocodon nectar is blood-red. And it has a unique pollinator too, as just one of a small number of plants pollinated by geckos.
The limited native range, human interference, and encroaching invasive species such as Chinese guava (Psidium cattleianum), all threaten this plant’s survival in the wild.
The Garden Connection
The Garden’s connection with Nesocodon goes back more than 3 decades. In the 1980s Garden president Dr. Peter Wyse Jackson, then a curator for Trinity College Botanic Garden, led an expedition to Mauritius. It was on that trip that Dr. Wyse Jackson leaned over the edge of the cliff and was able to hook two seed pods with his camera strap for propagation.
Horticulture staff are still peering over the same cliff today, keeping tabs on the population as part of the Garden’s broader conservation work in Mauritius. They are interested in collecting more seed from multiple Nesocodon plants, both for conservation and to understand the remaining genetic diversity.
Watch: Missouri Botanical Garden horticulture staff search the cliffs near Cascade 500 Pieds in Mauritius for populations of Nesocodon mauritianus.
Getting it to Grow
The Nesocodon on display in the Climatron were all grown from seeds acquired from the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland. These seeds are descendants of the same genetic material collected by Dr. Wyse Jackson more than 30 years ago.
The seeds were split among horticulturists in the Garden greenhouses, each trying a different technique to produce a healthy plant. Some seed was planted in tissue culture, others were simply sown in soil. Each method produced successful germination. The recording and tracking of propagation methods are key to helping with conservation of the species.
There are two places in the Climatron where you can look for Nesocodon and its bloom. Several are planted in the Indian Ocean bed, an area designed to highlight the biodiversity of the Indian Ocean region. Three more were planted on the cliffs next to the lower waterfall as a nod to their wild habitat.
The Climatron also provides another element of the plant’s native environment, as home to a cousin of its natural pollinator—geckos (our geckos are a different species than those found in Mauritius).
“It’s great for visitors to be able to see such a beautiful plant like the Nesocodon,” says Andrew Wyatt, Senior Vice President of Horticulture and Living Collections. “Its very presence on display in the Climatron is part of our active conservation work to safeguard the species, while also providing a wonderful educational example of the Garden’s mission in plant conservation.”
The plants in our living collection are just the first step in a larger conservation plan. Information about the propagation and cultivation of our Nesocodon plants will be entered into the Living Collections Management System, making it available to others working to conserve this species.
If enough genetic diversity can be grown in botanic gardens like ours, there would be the possibility of reintroducing some plants to the wild. That could include sites other than the waterfall cliff, where historical populations of Nesocodon once grew.
The Garden is also capacity building on Mauritius to help ex-situ conservation on the island, working with the government of Mauritius and local non profit organizations. This collaborative effort aims to propagate and conserve 60 species, all highly endangered. Most just as beautiful as the Nesocodon.
Cassidy Moody – Digital Media Specialist