We have so many beautiful and critically important trees worldwide, but sadly, 30% of them are endangered trees we can’t live without.
Every species of tree we lose is a wealth of unique genetics lost, which could have been the key to the future survival of healthy ecosystems in our changing world.
Every single tree matters. Ultimately, we only protect what we love, so let’s learn more about these magnificent marvels of nature and save our beautiful trees.
10 Endangered Trees We Don’t Want to Lose
1. Bois Dentelle – Elaeocarpus bojeri
The Bois Dentelle, French for “Lace Wood” describing its delicate flowers, is one of the rarest trees in the world, only known from a single location near Grand Bassin in the cloud forests of Mauritius island. There are only two trees left in the wild.
It is not a valuable tree threatened by overharvesting or land-clearing but rather invasive introduced species like the Strawberry Guava that are overrunning its extremely narrow habitat.
The Bois Dentelle population is Critically Endangered. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation have protected the two trees and are currently propagating their seeds in nurseries.
2. Baobab Trees – Adonsonia species
There are eight Baobab species, six endemic to Madagascar and one each in Africa and Australia.
Baobabs are sacred to most local cultures, where they are still used as food (fruits, leaves, and flowers) and water sources since their hollowed-out trunks store thousands of gallons of water.
Most are found inside protected areas with no way to migrate as climates shift; intervention will be necessary to enable these magnificent trees to survive.
3. Honduras Rosewood – Dalbergia stevensonii
Honduras Rosewood, also called Palissandre du Honduras, is a rare tree of the legume family native to Central America, where it grows in broadleaf swamps.
It has dense, durable wood that is highly prized for musical instruments, decorative veneers, sculptures, and other high-end crafts.
Honduras Rosewood is threatened in its native Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico by overharvesting and habitat destruction from slash-and-burn agriculture.
Despite being protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, it is still being harvested illegally or burnt in land clearing.
It is Critically Endangered, and the number of trees remaining is unknown.
4. Virginia Round-Leaved Birch – Betula lenta f. uber
This slender, short-lived tree was thought extinct for 60 years until it was rediscovered in 1975.
The population had been reduced to four adult trees, three of which were on private property. The entire population faces consistent threats from vandals who keep destroying the regenerating trees for fear that the federal government will infringe on local landowners’ rights.
Virginia Round-Leaved Birches are now cultivated in private nurseries and adjacent lands to prevent their extinction.
5. Lo’ulu or Hilldebrand’s Loulu – Pritchardia napaliensis
The Lo’ulu tree is a rare endemic palm tree of Kauai island, Hawaii, whose population was reduced to 12 trees by 2006. They were once widespread, with natives using the trees for spears, shelter, clothing, and more.
Land clearing has threatened it to facilitate the booming tourism industry, but also feral pigs that dig up their roots and rats that eat their seeds, preventing regeneration.
Conservation efforts have now brought its population to 255 trees, last assessed in 2020, according to IUCN.
Unlike so many introduced trees in Hawaii, these are native and should have their rare genetics protected.
6. Cape Cedar or Clanwilliam Cedar – Widdringtonia wallichii
It was being overharvested as early as the 1700s and is more recently threatened by fires.
Cape Cedar has a mismatch between its life-history and the local fire regime. It is strongly fire-adapted, with strong germination rates following fires. However, it grows too slowly to reach reproductive maturity before the next fire interval.
This tree will go extinct without direct intervention despite being protected and listed as Critically Endangered.
7. Dragon Trees – Dracaena draco and Dracaena cinnabari
Dragon Trees are some of the weirdest trees in the world. It has a strange upside-down-looking growth form, and its name comes from the blood-red sap that oozes from its branches like blood. Oddly, it is more closely related to Asparagus than trees.
The Dragon Tree from the Canary Islands, Madeira, and Morocco is Endangered and threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation.
The Socotra Dragon Tree is endemic to an island in Yemen, last assessed in 2004 as Vulnerable.
Both trees are further threatened by introduced goats, rats, and rabbits that eat the seeds and seedlings, preventing germination.
8. Houpo Magnolia – Magnolia officinalis
The Houpo is a magnolia tree native to China, where it was once widespread.
Magnolias are famous for their gorgeous flowers and are often grown in gardens worldwide, so it may seem surprising that many, like the Houpo, are Endangered.
Many magnolias are threatened by deforestation and overharvesting. Houpo has been further threatened by overharvesting for medicinal use for thousands of years.
This is another example of overexploitation threatening a native species. And while we may be able to preserve its genetics by growing them in gardens worldwide, is this the same as saving them from extinction?
9. Three Kings or Kaikōmako – Pennantia baylisiana
The Three Kings Tree was once called the ‘loneliest tree in the world’ because only one remained when discovered in 1945 on one of the Three Kings Islands off New Zealand.
The species was nearly wiped off the planet by introduced goats, a common problem facing island endemics worldwide. This single female tree was found by a botanist on an inaccessible scree slope the goats couldn’t reach.
Three Kings was propagated by cuttings and induced to self-fertilize. They are now producing their own seeds, and the trees are being replanted and grown privately.
Even with recovery efforts, it is Critically Endangered.
10. American Chestnut – Castanea dentata
Image by Randy Nonenmacher, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
The American Chestnut was once a dominant tree in the eastern forests of North America but was wiped out over just a few decades by the introduction of the Chestnut Blight from an Asian Chestnut tree in the late 1800s.
A resistant tree was discovered in a grove of dead trees, and scientists have been using that tree to hybridize with the more resistant Asian varieties in an attempt to save at least some of their genetics.
However, the original species is functionally extinct because even though the tree stumps resprout, they are destroyed by blight again before they reach reproductive maturity.
We Need To Save Our Endangered Trees For The Future
Sadly, an estimated 30% of the world’s tree species are at risk of extinction.
Habitat loss for land development and livestock grazing is the main driver of extinction. However, overharvesting and invasive species are also serious threats. Feral goats, rats, and rabbits that eat the seedlings preventing regeneration, are particularly problematic.
Hopefully, awareness and conservation efforts to preserve wild habitats will save some of these threatened beauties for future generations to enjoy.
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught” – Baba Dioum