Magnolia species lost to science for 97 years rediscovered in Haiti

Conservationists find native magnolia for first time since 1925 after original habitat destroyed by deforestation

A conservation team has rediscovered a native magnolia tree in a forest in Haiti for the first time since it was lost to science in 1925.

Boasting pure white flowers and uniquely shaped leaves, the northern Haiti magnolia (Magnolia emarginata) was found originally in the forest of Morne Colombo, which has since been destroyed by deforestation. It was considered endangered and featured on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list of threatened species, and its discovery has sparked new hope for the potential rewilding of Haiti’s forests.

As a result of the rapid decline of forest space – only 1% of the country’s original forest remains – many native plants now only grow in inaccessible mountains or ravines. Suspecting that the magnolia could survive in elevated habitats, a team from the Haiti National Trust travelled to Massif du Nord, Haiti’s longest mountain range, in search of the elusive plant.

On the third day of the expedition, the team spotted one tree and took the first photos ever captured of the plant. They soon discovered 16 flowering trees in various stages of development, along with juvenile plants in the early phases of growth.

These discoveries, they say, suggest that even more of the species could be found in the area. Once they had identified the trees, they collected samples for DNA analysis and plan to return in late autumn to collect seeds.

The Haiti National Trust has successfully cultivated four other native magnolia types across the island of Hispaniola, which also includes the Dominican Republic. They hope to use their experience to help local communities contribute to restoration efforts and eventually start a nursery.

Eladio Fernández, communications director for the Haiti National Trust and leader of the expedition, shared the optimism that the discovery of this once-lost species has ignited. He said: “Despite the bleak state of the country’s degraded forests, it still harbours species like this that are found nowhere else in the world, giving us the opportunity to save them.”


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