Tuesday 21 May
False gumwood (Commidendrum spurium)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
False gumwood fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
False gumwood description
With only eight individuals left in the wild, the false gumwood is one of the rarest trees in the world (1). This flowering tree is densely branched (2), with light green, diamond-shaped leaves with rough toothed edges, which cluster around the tips of the branches (3). It produces clusters of white, daisy-like flowers that (2), unlike those of the closely related and also highly threatened, St. Helena gumwood (Commidendrum robustum) (1), point towards the sky rather than drooping downwards (3).
- Height: up to 3 m (1)
False gumwood biology
Information on the biology of the false gumwood is scant. The pretty, delicate flowers of this species emerge from November through to March (1).Top
False gumwood range
The false gumwood (and indeed, all Commidendrum species) occurs only on the island of St. Helena in the South Pacific (1). As of 2004, the false gumwood was restricted to just two locations on the island, with seven individuals occurring near Mount Vesey and one individual situated at Coles Rock (2).Top
False gumwood habitat
The false gumwood was previously a major species of the moist gumwood woodland and cabbage tree woodland of the island, found at altitudes from 500 to 750 metres (2) (4). However, due to habitat destruction, the few remaining false gumwoods reside on cliff edges (1).
The false gumwood requires a habitat with high moisture levels compared to other members of its genus (4). It reacts badly to dry conditions and this is one of the reasons it is so rare compared to its close relative, the St. Helena gumwood, which persists in a number of other habitats (4).Top
False gumwood status
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).Top
False gumwood threats
With just eight plants remaining, the false gumwood is in an extremely perilous position. Its demise began with the discovery of St Helena Island in 1502; ever since, the false gumwood has been used as timber for fires (2), and huge areas of its habitat have been cleared for pastures and the grazing of goats (2). Forests once inhabited by the false gumwood have been all but destroyed, and native flora now covers less than one percent of the island’s area (5).
As well as the introduction of the goat, other invasive species have caused significant population declines in the false gumwood, including introduced flora, with which it competes, and, most significantly, the accidentally introduced jacaranda bug (Orthezia insignis). The bug can infest all members of the Commidendrum genus and, although never found naturally on false gumwood, is known to be responsible for nearly causing the extinction of the St. Helena gumwood (Commidendrum robustum) during the 1990s. The bug infests trees, sucking the sap from the leaves, allowing secondary infestation by black sooty moulds which rapidly kill the plant (5).Top
False gumwood conservation
There has been a significant amount of conservation action aimed at preserving all endemic flora of St. Helena. The earliest action, during the 1970s, was the control of the goat population on the island (4), after it was recognised that goats were causing major damage to almost all of St. Helena’s wooded habitats (4). There are currently only a few wild goats left and all domestic goats must be kept penned by law (4). Then, during 1985, conservation areas were created and, under the Endangered Plants Propagation Programme,habitats where the false gumwood occurred were designated as endemic forest reserves (6).
In 1993, the South American coccinellid beetle, Hyperaspis pantherina, was introduced to the island as a predator to the jacaranda bug with great success (5). Surveys were stopped in 1995, as so few jacaranda bugs were found and there have been no new reports of large population findings since (5).
In March and February 1996, seeds were taken from the false gumwood near Mount Vesey and germinated at the Endemic Nursery (2), and the ongoing removal of invasive flora should hopefully allow the planting of seeds near existing false gumwood trees (2). During 2009, seeds were collected from false gumwood trees by members of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank project, to prevent extinction of the species should it be lost from the wild (7).Top
Find out more
For further information on Kew’s Millenium Seed Bank project see:
To learn more about conservation work on the island of St. Helena see:
St. Helena National Trust:
To find out about efforts to conserve the world’s most threatened trees see:
Global Trees Campaign:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
- A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Germination is the beginning of growth, usually following a period of dormancy and in response to favourable conditions. For example, the sprouting of a seedling from a seed.
IUCN Red List (May, 2010)
- Ekwall, J. (1999) The Potted Flora of St Helena: False Gumwood. Online. Available at:
Ashmole, N.P. and Ashmole, M.J. (2003) False gumwood: Commidendrum spurium. Online. Available at:
- Cronk, Q.C.B. (1989) The past and present vegetation of St. Helena. Journal of Biogeography, 16(1): 47-64.
- Fowler, S.V. (2005) The Successful Control of Orthezia insignis on St. Helena Island Saves Natural Populations of Endemic Gumwood Trees, Commidendrum robustum. Second International Symposium on Biological Control of Arthropods, Davos, Switzerland.
- Procter, D. and Fleming, L.V. (1999) Biodiversity: the UK Overseas Territories. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough, UK.
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Project (May, 2010)
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.