A rare shrub found only on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean, the pribby (Rondeletia buxifolia) was rediscovered in 2006 after volcanic eruptions destroyed much of the island’s unique vegetation. This multi-stemmed plant grows up to around three metres in height, with arching branches bearing hairless leaves (2). Each leaf, which measures up to 3.5 centimetres long and 1.7 centimetres wide, has a narrow base that expands to a broad tip, and is borne on a short stalk measuring just 1 to 2 millimetres in length (3). The cream, yellow or orange flowers are clustered into inflorescences, and the petals form a tube that splits into four lobes (2). The fruit capsule is around four millimetres in diameter, hairless, and contains winged seeds (3).
Rediscovered in 2006, there is an understandable dearth of information on the specific biology of the pribby. However, it is known to flower at any time of the year, and that its seeds are dispersed by the wind. Research is currently being conducted at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew to identify the most appropriate compost, temperature, humidity and watering regimes for germinating its seed and growing seedlings (2).
Between 1995 and 1997 an active volcano erupted on Montserrat, resulting in widespread devastation of the island’s natural landscape. Hot ash, gases and rocks destroyed trees, blocked rivers and caused flash floods, destroying much vegetation (4)(5). Prior to this event, the pribby was known only from herbarium specimens collected in 1979. However, surveys on Montserrat in 2006 rediscovered the pribby, but found it to be rare, with a total distribution of just 17 square kilometres. Furthermore, most of its populations were found to be situated outside of the island’s one protected forest area (2)(3).
Forest habitat loss on Montserrat has since been compounded by encroaching agriculture, which has cleared much original forest, particularly on the Silver Hills in northern Montserrat. Feral animals, such as pigs and rats, have also degraded areas of native vegetation and destroyed seedlings, while invasive floral species, such as the purple allamanda (Cryptostegia madagascariensis), are smothering native plants (4)(5).
With over 800 native plant species, Montserrat is one of the richest of all the UK Overseas Territories in terms of its plant diversity. The UK Overseas Territories team at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has been involved in conservation projects in Montserrat since 1998. Once such project, entitled 'Enabling the people of Montserrat to conserve the Centre Hills', collected specimens and habitat information, and assessed the plant diversity of an area relatively undamaged by volcanic eruptions. An additional project focused more closely on the islands two endemic species; the pribby and the Montserrat orchid (Epidendrum montserratense) (4)(5). After this survey rediscovered several populations of the pribby, the Botanic Garden in Montserrat planted a demonstration hedge of this species, to assess its potential as a native hedging plant for use instead of introduced species. In addition, it has recently flowered in Kew's nursery glasshouses, which is the first time its flowers have been seen outside Montserrat (2).
ARKive is supported by OTEP, a joint programme of funding from the UK FCO and DFID which provides support to address priority environmental issues in the Overseas Territories, and Defra
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