Only about two dozen trees from the Karomia gigas tree exist in its wild Tanzanian habitat. Its new flower is a hopeful sign for its survival.
As far as the plant scientists at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis know, the tiny purple-and-white flower that recently grew in their greenhouse has never before been seen, at least by experts like them.
On May 3, Justin Lee, a senior horticulturist at the garden, was checking on a group of Karomia gigas tree saplings in a greenhouse when he spotted the flower. The tree, related to mint and originally from Africa, is one of the world’s most critically endangered tree species.
The one-inch-long flower had a halo of light purple petals that sloped downward while a cluster of four white, pollen-bearing stamens poke out.
“It’s a bit odd for a mint flower. It looks flipped inside out,” says Lee. The mint family, Lamiaceae, more commonly puts out tube-like flowers. The tree’s caretakers think it’s likely the flowers attract pollinating bees, butterflies, and moths, but it’s also possible that the tree is capable of self pollinating.