The genus Coffea has over 100 species other than the two commonly cultivated ones, Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora (robusta). New species are still being described, and over 70% of the species in this genus are threatened with extinction. There are other close relatives to Coffea, some of which are also extremely rare.
In honor of 2010 being the International Year of Biodiversity, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is featuring a different endangered species every day. This week one of the species was a coffee relative.
Café marron (Ramosmania rodriguesii) exists in the wild as a single plant on the island of Rodrigues, part of the Mauritius islands in the southwest Indian Ocean east of Madagascar. It is surrounded by four fences. Cuttings are being propagated for a re-introduction program on to a nature reserve — the only hope in an island nation which has been nearly completely deforested. Success is not guaranteed, however. Not only is the in-vitro propagation process difficult, it sounds like the species faces problems even if it were to be re-established. The species account at the web site of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew (UK), which is leading the conservation effort, notes,
"As with much of Rodrigues’ native vegetation, it was probably a combination of introduced herbivores, invasive alien plants and habitat loss that devastated the café marron population. Indeed, goats had reduced the remaining wild specimen to a small, half-eaten shrub when it was first discovered. Owing to the unprecedented level of scientific interest that surrounded the little plant in the aftermath of its re-discovery [in 1980], local people became convinced of the plant’s medicinal properties. Consequently, there was a period before the erection of multiple fences and even the installation of a guard, when people were intent on removing branches, twigs and leaves from the hapless plant."
There is only one other species in the genus Ramosmania and it is also critically endangered.
Virtual hat tip to the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog.