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Meet the World’s Loneliest Tree – Pennantia baylisiana

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Written By Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

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Home » Ancient & Remarkable Trees » Meet the World’s Loneliest Tree – Pennantia baylisiana

In the remote Manawatāwhi/Three Kings Islands off New Zealand’s coast, there’s a single tree that stands apart from the rest.

Known affectionately as “the world’s loneliest tree,” this Pennantia baylisiana was discovered in 1945 by botanist Geoff Baylis.

It’s not just any tree—it’s the only wild individual of its species.

Three Kings kaikōmako

This botanical standout doesn’t blend in with the crowd. It has a shrubby, multi-trunked build and a broad crown that can stretch up to 8 meters high in cultivation.

Its bark is a stylish pale greyish-brown, decorated with lenticels, which are small spots that add texture to its surface.

The leaves are large, egg-shaped, and have a unique flair, curling dramatically along the edges in sunlit conditions.

Springtime brings out its best, with clusters of tiny, greenish-white flowers that make a brief but beautiful appearance. However, the tree is a bit secretive about its fruits and seeds, which are as rare as they are sought after.

Pennantia_baylisiana_flower buds
Flower Buds of Pennantia baylisiana – Image by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Originally believed to be the last of its lineage, this Pennantia baylisiana has since inspired a botanical rescue mission reminiscent of a heist movie.

In the 1950’s, gardeners managed to propagate new plants from its cuttings. And in a pivotal development in 1985, these cuttings were induced to self-pollinate, a rare feat for a plant known to be dioecious—having distinctly male and female individuals.

Today, this tree is not quite as isolated. Thanks to concerted conservation efforts involving hormones and careful hand-pollination, several hundred saplings now thrive in various locations across New Zealand.

Pennantia_baylisiana
Image Credit: Dayne Laird via Oratia Natives

These efforts are cautious to prevent the introduction of diseases that could threaten this burgeoning population.

While the original tree still stands alone in the wild, it has become a symbol of conservation success, showing the world the resilience and intricacies of nature.

So the next time you’re feeling a bit solitary, remember the Pennantia baylisiana, a tree that has mastered the art of standing alone with grace.

Digging Deeper Into The Pennantia baylisiana

Location

The Pennantia baylisiana calls the rugged terrains of Manawatāwhi/Three Kings Islands home, about 55 kilometers northwest of Cape Reinga, New Zealand.

Perched above a cliff on the northern face of Great Island, this solitary tree overlooks the expansive blue.

Three Kings Island New Zealand
Three Kings Island New Zealand

Type of Tree

Known also as Three Kings kaikōmako or kaikōmako manawatāwhi in Māori, Pennantia baylisiana is a striking species with a shrubby, multi-trunked form and a regal broad crown, distinguishing it from its Pennantia relatives.

Its foliage consists of leathery, green, egg-shaped leaves that stylishly curl at the edges and delicate greenish-white flowers that bloom to announce the arrival of spring.

Is The Original Pennantia baylisiana Still Alive?

The original Pennantia baylisiana continues to survive against the odds, steadfastly growing on an inaccessible scree slope shielded from the elements and herbivores alike.

Known as the world’s loneliest tree, it remains the only wild representative of its species.

Descendants

From a single tree, a lineage has flourished; Pennantia baylisiana has been successfully propagated and now has several hundred descendants growing in New Zealand.

These progeny are the result of careful cultivation, including an induced self-pollination event that produced viable seeds.

Can You Visit Them?

While visiting the lone wild Pennantia baylisiana on Great Island is not feasible due to its remote and rugged location, its descendants can be seen in various botanical settings around New Zealand, including public and private gardens.

Three Kings Tree Pennantia_baylisiana_tree
Pennantia baylisiana tree in the Ōtari Native Botanic Garden in Wellington – Image by Beeveria, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Conservation

Conservation efforts for Pennantia baylisiana have been proactive, involving rigorous propagation protocols to prevent disease transmission and managing its habitat to safeguard against environmental threats.

These efforts have established a new generation of trees that contribute to the ecological diversity of the region.

Legacy


The Pennantia baylisiana has evolved from a mere botanical curiosity to become a symbol of conservation and the resilience of nature.

Its story inspires a legacy of environmental stewardship and highlights the critical need for protecting rare species against the backdrop of global biodiversity loss.

Want More?

Has the Pennantia baylisiana captured your imagination?

If you’re intrigued, you might also find the stories of other remarkable trees around the world equally compelling.

Discover the historical Prison Boab Tree in Australia, the inspiring Anne Frank Tree, the enigmatic Tree of Life in Bahrain, the lone majesty of the Tree of Ténéré in Niger, or the iconic Avenue of Baobabs.

Each of these trees tells a unique story that intertwines the natural world with human history, inviting you to explore and reflect on their enduring legacies.

Sources – Wikipedia

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Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

Lakeisha grew up in East Africa, literally surrounded by nature which sparked her interest in learning more about trees and plants from a very young age. She belongs to a family of gardeners, so for her, gardening is a way of life, a tradition she’s proud to uphold. As a self-taught gardener, Lakeisha has successfully grafted trees to produce hybrids for gardens and landscapes. When she’s not gardening, she’s writing about her experience with nature or watching baking fails!