Rooster by Roman Köhler - Own work, Public Domain,

Are chicken about to put the final nail in the coffin of the Lost Sage of Constanza?

The Lost Sage of Constanza (Salvia praeterita) is one of the rarest plants in the Americas. This species is known from a single location in the Dominican Republic only. A hillside now about to be overrun by the sprawling suburbs of Constanza.

The last known wild population of this creeping, blue flowered shrub, is covering less than a square meter. The special rock habitat of the Lost Sage of Constanza, was much more extensive in the past. It is now vanishing quickly, modified under the influence of human settlement and grazing livestock. The nearby rocks are littered with trash and wastewater runoff. It seems like a miracle that the Lost Sage of Constanza survived on a single steep rock until the present day – literally hanging on the edge.

Acción salva una especie, a local NGO rediscovered the Lost Sage of Constanza 40 years after it vanished from the records. They collected seeds for conservation purposes in 2014 and 2015. These seeds were sent to Rolando Uria who runs a specialized sage nursery in Argentina and to Huntington Botanical Garden in California. Both institutions were able to raise plants from these seeds. Which means that there is at least a small captive population available, in case the wild population vanishes. This year, further seed collection was planned, for a propagation program within the Dominican Republic, a cooperation of Acción salva una especie and Fundación Moscoso Puello. This year however, there were much less seeds available than in 2014 or 2015.

Martin Reith, founder of Acción salva una especie reports:
“We have been collecting seeds in 2014 and 2015, and both years we found a number of ripe seed pods. In 2015, we had no difficulties finding 50 ripe seeds. Now, in 2016, the situation is completely different. This year the next houses are much closer and we observed a flock of chickens foraging in the middle of the sage population. There were very few ripe seed pods on the plants, therefore, we had great difficulty finding any ripe seeds to collect this year. The total harvest of 2016 is only five ripe seeds! Flowering doesn’t seem to be the problem, as there are flowers enough. It actually seems like the chickens are feeding on the ripe seed pods! This is bad news for us, as we urgently need seeds for a propagation program here on the island. These chicken seem to feed on seeds, that are crucial for the survival of a rare plant species!”

Not everything is bad news; there is a silver lining on the horizon. The Lost Sage of Constanza was included into the National Red List of endangered species this year and is now officially considered critically endangered. Given this new status, it will get more public attention and it will be more easy to get funding for a conservation program that aims to conserve this rare species. In addition, the Dr. Rafael Ma. Moscoso National Botanical Garden has now joined forces with Acción salva una especie in order to save this species.

Dr. Colmar Andreas Serra attended the meeting of Yuley Encarnacion Piñeyro (Dr. Rafael Ma. Moscoso National Botanical Garden) and Martin Reith (Acción salva una especie) in Constanza and also joined the excursion to the last known wild population of the Lost Sage of Constanza. He says:

“The last wild population of the Lost sage of Constanza is in the worst possible situation. You can literally see the settlement growing over the last intact habitat of this species. And if nothing changes, this species and its habitat will certainly vanish within the next one or two years.

The risk of immediate extinction is also very high. A invasive species of grass is growing between the last few sage plants. This grass will dry up, as soon as the dry season comes. People here use fire to clean up trash, or to prepare land for agriculture or house construction. If such a fire hits the last population of the Lost Sage of Constanza, the dry grass will produce enough heat to kill all sage plants immediately.
We need some immediate action from the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente here. The nearby constructions should be stopped and the location should be protected by ministerial decree as soon as possible.”

While the remaining wild population is in extrem peril, the cultivated plants do well: The young  plants in Huntington Botanical garden (California) are not in flower yet. Rolando Uria who runs the specialized Salvia nursery in Argentinia reported, that his older plants had been flowering and that he was able to harvest seeds! We hope that he will share his harvest and sent seeds back to the Dominican Republic, so we can start the local propagation programm in the nursery of Fundación Moscoso Puello, as planned.

Acción salva una especie thanks Miquel Angel Abreu Santos, Rolando Uria, Ginny Hunt, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, especially Kathy Musical and SeanLahmeyer, Fundación Moscoso Puello, especially Andres Ferrer,  Colmar Andreas Serra, Dr. Rafael Ma. Moscoso National Botanical Garden especially Yuley Encarnacion Piñeyro for their engagagement for this critically endangered species. Robin Middleton is thanked for financial support!

Lisa McDowell Johnson improved parts of the above text. The picture of the rooster was taken by Roman Köhler (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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