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Trochetiopsis ebenus - St. Helena ebony

The remote island of St. Helena in the south Atlantic is more known as the place Napoleon was exiled to, but it made botanical history when a plant thought to be extinct was rediscovered there in 1980.  The beautiful St. Helena Ebony - Trochetiopsis ebenus - was found clinging to a steep cliff; its population had dwindled down to just 2 plants.  It was given endangered species status and saved from extinction.  This charming Hibiscus relative blooms all year long, with silky white petals that unfurl to reveal red & yellow stamens.  The plant comes from a mild climate and is untested in warm conditions.  Freshly picked seeds are almost never seen for sale.

Trochetiopsis ebenus - St. Helena ebony

The St. Helena Ebony is not related to common ebony trees, although its wood is similarly black and dense, sinking in water like common ebony.  It is a small tree that once grew 15 feet tall when it was plentiful on the island, but now only grows to 6 feet due to inbreeding of the few remaining plants.  It takes on a handsome, Christmas tree shape, with attractive leaves that are lined with soft, fuzzy bronze hairs underneath.  The plant flowers all year here in San Francisco, with the heaviest show in summer and autumn.  Each 3 inch flower stays open for about a week, turning pink before dropping.  The plant's population declined when goats were brought to the island in the 16th century, and by 1850 it was believed to be extinct.

Trochetiopsis ebenus - St. Helena ebony

After a week, the flowers turn pink!

The temperature on the island is mild all year, rarely getting above 85 F (29C).  I have no experience growing the plant in hot conditions, but it's possible that it might not thrive in temperatures consistently above 85 degrees, particularly if nights are warm.  It tolerates winter temperatures in the 30s (2C), but i don't know if it can take more than a light frost.  I recommend protecting it from frost.  It grows well in a pot in a well-draining soil mix.  It likes mostly sunny conditions.  Some afternoon shade might be needed in warmer climates.  It is fairly drought-tolerant since it comes from an arid climate, but it looks the best if given regular water.  Over about 40% humidity is recommended.  In the right conditions, it is an easy plant.

Trochetiopsis ebenus - St. Helena ebony

 

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Germinating the seeds

 

 

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