Half of Wild Magnolias Facing Extinction, Report Says

Kate Ravilious in York, England
for National Geographic News
April 4, 2007

They may be blooming in your garden, but magnolias are not faring so well in the wild.

Across the globe, 131 of the 245 known species of wild magnolia trees are in danger of going extinct, according to a joint report from the nonprofits Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and Fauna and Flora International (FFI).

Having survived millions of years of geologic and climatic upheaval, these ancient plants are now suffering from rapid deforestation around the world, according to the report.

"There is a strong chance that these species will become extinct unless action is taken now," said Sara Oldfield of BGCI.

Like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, magnolias are indicators of the health of the forests in which they live, the report authors say.

"We now have a choice," Oldfield announced at the launch of the report, called the Red List of the Magnoliaceae, in London, England, this week.

"We can use the new information to conserve these important trees and restore their forest habitats, or we can catalog their extinction.

"The second option would be a tragedy."

Ancient Family

Magnolias are known to have existed throughout the Northern Hemisphere since the Cretaceous period, 145.5 to 65.5 million years ago (related news: "Dino-Era Fossil—The First Flower?" [May 3, 2002]).

Today about two-thirds of magnolia species are found in Asia, with over 40 percent growing in southern China. The remaining species are found mainly in the Americas.

According to the new report, roughly half of China's wild magnolia species are at risk of extinction, and similarly dire conditions exist in North and South America.

Continued on Next Page >>


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