Karomia Gigas (Probably the Rarest Tree in the World)

Karomia Gigas is a tall tree from the mint family that is so rare, there are no names for it in English or local languages (or Swahili) of the tree’s habitat. Karomia gigas is a species of plant in the family Lamiaceae. It was first recorded only in 1977, living in a coastal forest of Northern Kenya. In 1991 another tree was found in a hardly visited copse of unprotected Tanzania forest.

When either trees could not be found it was feared the great mint tree had become extinct. However, in 2011, it was rediscovered in Tanzania’s Litipo Forest Reserve. The forest is home to a type of woody ecosystem called Miombo woodlands that span central and southern Africa. The earth was once seabed and the soil has been made from insect matter and crushed sea life which is suitable for this tree.

Appearance of Karomia Gigas

Karomia Gigas, is a tall tree typically growing to 80 feet tall (24.3 m). Branches begin to sprout from about 35 feet (10.6 m) from the trunk. It is currently unclear if Karomia Gigas can pollinate itself like some trees. Light green leaves are shed during the dry season.

Karomia Gigas (Probably the Rarest Tree in the World)
A Lone Flower of Karomia Gigas (Probably the Rarest Tree in the World)

The tree grows very small purple and white flowers which are hard to observe in the wild as they grow very high up on branches. The prevalent flowers, seen by experts are rare and 1 inch long with halo of lavender coloured petals that splayed outward; a quartet of four white, pollen-bearing stamens poke out to attract bees and pollinating butterflies and moths.

Fantastic Facts bout Karomia Gigas

  • 19 trees have been recorded alive in the wild.
  • Botanic Gardens Conservation International pay staff to guard the trees.

Roy Gereau from the Missouri Botanical Garden, who coordinates the IUCN Red Data book listing of East African plants, said: “Both trees are still in critical danger of extinction, given that fewer than 50 individuals of each species are known.”

R. Gereau

Threats to the Karomia Gigas

Botanists from the University of Dar es Salaam fear, that their habitat is not being protected enough to prevent threats to the Karomia Gigas.

The forests generate a large percentage of Tanzania’s electricity through hydroelectric power plants. Although, the rich biodiversity values of the Coastal Forests, and their manifold uses including among others medicinal plants, food, fuel wood, building materials, the forests are being degraded apace by human activities.

Charcoal, unsustainable logging for timber and poles, over harvesting for wood carving and unsustainable hunting and mining are all threats to rare trees like Karomia Gigas. the tree is also susceptible to fungus that’s spread by insects.

Karomia Gigas in Botanical Gardens

Missouri Botanical Gardens is leading the way in growing this rare tree away from its natural habitat. Experts have grown around 30 young trees in a protected environment which will help insure Karomia Gigas does not become extinct.

Karomia Gigas (Probably the Rarest Tree in the World)
Missouri Botanical Gardens Grow Karomia Gigas Saplings

The Garden has been participating in field surveys of these trees, in partnership with the Tanzania
Tree Seed Agency (TTSA), the Tanzania Forest Service (TFS), and Botanic Gardens Conservation
International (BGCI). The Karomia gigas had never been successfully grown in cultivation before. The Garden received a shipment of Karomia fruits to attempt propagation from seed which was successful.

“You celebrate every stage. They become like your children. You’re a steward to these species,” Wyatt says. “You have a scientific connection, and you also have an emotional connection to the species.”

Andrew Wyatt, the vice president of horticulture at the Missouri Botanical Garden.

References: https://www.tfs.go.tz

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