St Helena rosemary (Phylica polifolia)

St Helena rosemary leaves
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St Helena rosemary fact file

St Helena rosemary description

GenusPhylica (1)

This extremely rare shrub gains its common name from the resemblance of the small leaves to those of the herb rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), although they are not related (2). It was previously known as a tree (even one that produced useful timber), but only straggling bushes of this species are now seen. These bushes have many slender branches and the tiny leaves are extremely small and pointed with a waxy, dark green sheen to their leathery upper surface (2). The small, greenish-white flowers are either solitary or occur in small clusters (2). Pea-sized hard fruits develop, which contain shiny black seeds (2).

Height: up to 3 m (2)

St Helena rosemary biology

Flowers are thought to appear in October with fruits maturing from November to January (2). The High Hill and Distant Cottage plants which are found growing out of cliff/rocky outcrops are spreading in habit whereas the plants growing at Lot are upright (4). These differences are also expressed at the molecular level, and have been maintained when planted at the Environmental Conservation Section Nursery in Scotland, St Helena (4).


St Helena rosemary range

Endemic to St Helena in the southern Atlantic Ocean, this species was previously widespread in the west of the island (2). Today, around 100 plants remain, restricted to three subpopulations on cliffs such as High Hill, Lot and between Distant Cottage and the Asses Ears (4). Records in 1875 by Melliss found the species at Fairyland, Plantation, Rosemary Hall, Oaklands and Lot (4).


St Helena rosemary habitat

Formerly widespread in dry places in the west of the island; Rosemary Plain derives its name from the former occurrence of this plant there (4). The St Helena rosemary is now reduced to small populations on cliffs at 500 - 600 metres above sea level (4).


St Helena rosemary status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered


St Helena rosemary threats

The island of St Helena has undergone a dramatic loss of native fauna and flora following centuries of exploitation; over 60% of the island has suffered massive erosion or is colonised by introduced plant species (3). Although there are around 100 rosemary plants remaining, these are mainly in small, highly fragmented and genetically distinct populations. Growing on or below rock outcrops, the populations are vulnerable to chance factors and to competition from introduced plants. No regeneration has been observed at the High Hill site in the last 10 years (4).


St Helena rosemary conservation

The Environmental Conservation Section nursery at Scotland, St Helena has raised a number of plants of St Helena rosemary, and some of these have been planted out in private gardens to aid their survival (2).


Find out more

For more information on St Helena see:



Authenticated (30/6/03) by Rebecca Cairns-Wicks. Chair, IUCN SSC South Atlantic Island Plant Specialist Group.



A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
  2. Cronk, Q.C.B. (2000) The Endemic Flora of St Helena. Anthony Nelson, Shropshire.
  3. Cairns-Wicks, R. (June, 2003) Pers. comm.
  4. Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) (March, 2003)

Image credit

St Helena rosemary leaves  
St Helena rosemary leaves

© Andrew McRobb / Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 208 332 5000
Fax: +44 (0) 208 332 5197


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