In bloom, the Falklands rock cress (Phlebolobium maclovianum) produces dense clusters of tiny, white flowers, making this otherwise nondescript species stand out from more ubiquitous plants, such as diddle-dee (Empetrum rubrum) and tussac grass (Poa flabellate).
Several tough stems grow upright from the same plant, with narrow and pointed, crinkly-edged leaves forming a rosette around the base. Even narrower leaves alternate closely along the length of the stems (2).
The Falklands rock cress is a perennial species which is part of the Brassicaceae (formerly Cruciferae) family, commonly known as ‘the Cabbage family’. All species in this family have a characteristic flower shape, with four petals that are 'cruciform' (arranged in a cross shape). The Falklands rock cress produces long, thin seed pods, commonly known as siliques (5).
Although rare, the Falklands rock cress is widespread throughout the Falkland Islands. It is found on steep slopes in areas of shrubby heath and rough grass, as well as on damp ground among tussac (Poa flabellate) and other grasses near the coast, usually between elevations of between 4 to 30 metres, sometimes to 60 metres (1)(2)(3). Of the 13 endemic plants in the Falkland Islands, the Falklands rock cress is the only species which is sometimes associated with wetlands (4).
The biggest threat to the Falklands rock cress is grazing. In the past, overgrazing by sheep and other livestock has caused the Falklands rock cress to undergo a major decline, and it now only exists in small, localised patches. This limited distribution places it under additional threat from continued grazing, agriculture, human disturbance, chance natural events, genetic erosion and invasive species (1)(6)(7)(8).
Protected by law, the Falklands rock cress is listed in the Conservation of Wildlife and Nature Ordinance by the Falkland Islands Government (4). Conservation programmes are currently focusing on protecting the Falkland Islands’ plant species and mitigating the threats to their survival, while Falklands Conservation is also working in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, on identifying important plant areas throughout the islands (8). The Falklands Islands Plant Conservation Project, with assistance from Falklands Conservation, is developing a strategy for the long-term conservation of the islands’ threatened flora, with plans for sustainable land management and protection. Public education projects are also aiming to tackle human disturbances to natural environments (7).
Current action plan objectives for the Falklands rock cress are to maintain its current distribution and ensure the continued survival of viable populations, and to promote policies that will allow an increase in range (4).
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Woods, R.W. (2000) Flowering Plants of the Falkland Islands. Falklands Conservation, The Falkland Islands.
Broughton, D.A. and McAdam, J.H. (2005) A checklist of the native vascular flora of the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas): new information on the species present, their ecology, status and distribution. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society, 132: 115-148.
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