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HomeNewsArchivesDOZENS OF V.I. PLANT SPECIES ARE ENDANGERED

DOZENS OF V.I. PLANT SPECIES ARE ENDANGERED

Nov. 2, 2001 – While endangered animals like the leatherback turtle and the tree boa get lots of attention, more than four dozen Virgin Islands plants that are also on the federal government's "endangered and threatened" list barely merit a mention when the subject of disappearing species comes up.
"But they're part of our natural heritage. We have vegetation communities here that are not on other islands," said Toni Thomas, natural resources agent at the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service.
While they have intrinsic value in that they contribute to the planet's biodiversity, these rare plants also could turn out to be just what the doctor ordered. Thomas said scientists may find that any one of them has medicinal value.
She said she received a call from a scientist at Florida A&M University inquiring about the St. Thomas prickly ash, a plant on the federal endangered list.
According to Thomas, a study found that a relative of that plant may cure sickle cell anemia. Unfortunately, an area in St. Thomas known to harbor the prickly ash plant is in the midst of development. She said there are laws against cutting down endangered plants, but no one appears to take heed.
Rafe Boulon, chief of resources management for the V.I. National Park, added that when plants are growing on private land, it's hard to prevent their demise. Between ongoing development and plant collectors who clean out whole areas, many of the species are disappearing at a rapid rate, he said.
In particular, "orchids and cacti are attractive to people," Thomas noted.
Boulon said all of the territory's orchids are endangered. He said another plant, Thomas' lidflower, which grows on Bordeaux Mountain on St. John and is on the federal endangered species list, is fast disappearing thanks to rooting pigs. "There's only a few left in the world," he said.
Foraging goats also decimate areas with endangered or threatened plants, Boulon added. And plant species not native to the area often take over, crowding out the natives.
Many other plant species not on the "endangered and threatened" list also are in danger of extinction, Thomas said, but because not much work has been done on the subject, they are not included. "There hasn't been a full inventory on St. Thomas since the 1920s," she said, whereas more research has been done on St. John because of the presence of the national park.
Boulon said that two species on the list, Solanum concarpum and Agave eggersiana, which grows only on St. Croix, are just about at the edge of extinction. "There's not a whole lot left," he said.
Another, Galactia eggersii, which Boulon described as a vine with a scimitar-shaped flower, also is in trouble.
Dear to Boulon's heart on the endangered list is the Lignum vitae, a tree of unusually hard wood long used locally to make household items.
Another rare specimen, Woodburyana, grows only on the eastern end of St. John. When development began in the area about a decade ago, land buyers agreed in their deed covenants to transplant patches of the plant that stood where houses were planned. "They cut through the densest stands when they cut roads," Boulon said.
For a full list of both plant and animal species on the federal and local endangered lists, visit the UVI Cooperative Extension Service's endangered species web page.

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Nov. 2, 2001 - While endangered animals like the leatherback turtle and the tree boa get lots of attention, more than four dozen Virgin Islands plants that are also on the federal government's "endangered and threatened" list barely merit a mention when the subject of disappearing species comes up.
"But they're part of our natural heritage. We have vegetation communities here that are not on other islands," said Toni Thomas, natural resources agent at the University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service.
While they have intrinsic value in that they contribute to the planet's biodiversity, these rare plants also could turn out to be just what the doctor ordered. Thomas said scientists may find that any one of them has medicinal value.
She said she received a call from a scientist at Florida A&M University inquiring about the St. Thomas prickly ash, a plant on the federal endangered list.
According to Thomas, a study found that a relative of that plant may cure sickle cell anemia. Unfortunately, an area in St. Thomas known to harbor the prickly ash plant is in the midst of development. She said there are laws against cutting down endangered plants, but no one appears to take heed.
Rafe Boulon, chief of resources management for the V.I. National Park, added that when plants are growing on private land, it's hard to prevent their demise. Between ongoing development and plant collectors who clean out whole areas, many of the species are disappearing at a rapid rate, he said.
In particular, "orchids and cacti are attractive to people," Thomas noted.
Boulon said all of the territory's orchids are endangered. He said another plant, Thomas' lidflower, which grows on Bordeaux Mountain on St. John and is on the federal endangered species list, is fast disappearing thanks to rooting pigs. "There's only a few left in the world," he said.
Foraging goats also decimate areas with endangered or threatened plants, Boulon added. And plant species not native to the area often take over, crowding out the natives.
Many other plant species not on the "endangered and threatened" list also are in danger of extinction, Thomas said, but because not much work has been done on the subject, they are not included. "There hasn't been a full inventory on St. Thomas since the 1920s," she said, whereas more research has been done on St. John because of the presence of the national park.
Boulon said that two species on the list, Solanum concarpum and Agave eggersiana, which grows only on St. Croix, are just about at the edge of extinction. "There's not a whole lot left," he said.
Another, Galactia eggersii, which Boulon described as a vine with a scimitar-shaped flower, also is in trouble.
Dear to Boulon's heart on the endangered list is the Lignum vitae, a tree of unusually hard wood long used locally to make household items.
Another rare specimen, Woodburyana, grows only on the eastern end of St. John. When development began in the area about a decade ago, land buyers agreed in their deed covenants to transplant patches of the plant that stood where houses were planned. "They cut through the densest stands when they cut roads," Boulon said.
For a full list of both plant and animal species on the federal and local endangered lists, visit the UVI Cooperative Extension Service's endangered species web page.