‘Soufriere Tree – Fact or fable? – An open response
Our Readers' Opinions
March 6, 2020

‘Soufriere Tree – Fact or fable? – An open response

Mr Fereira,

I WOULD LIKE To kindly address some of your concerns expressed in a letter to the editor by Oswald Fereira entitled “The Soufriere Tree, fact or fiction? published in Searchlight’s February 28, 2020 publication.

I would like to first state that the Soufriere Tree (Spachea elegans) is officially recognized as The National Tree of St Vincent & The Grenadines, and is noted on several Government websites (Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Foreign Affairs) as such. In your article you were quite correct in pointing out that the tree however was not endemic to SVG, but rather had a wide spread throughout the Amazon basin where it is common in Brazil, both Guianas and Venezuela. Its commonality in that region is no secret in the botanical world.

It is well recorded that the Dr Alexander Anderson, the Botanic Gardens’ second, and most outstanding Curator in its 255 year history, was the first man to have climbed the volcano and also travelled extensively throughout the colonies, including Guiana, collecting plants.

Dr Richard A. Howard in his six-volume work, FLORA OF THE LESSER ANTILLES states that the tree was introduced into St Vincent from British Guiana in 1791.

The Soufriere Tree has not been found in the wild in SVG after the 1812 eruption of La Soufriere volcano, and the only two known specimens of the tree were located in The Botanic Gardens up until 2013 where the older one was toppled by a tropical storm later that year.

In January of 2017, the Curator of the Botanic Gardens commenced a plant propagation program with grant funding support from the SVG Preservation Fund for the Lignum Vitae and Soufriere Tree as “Flagship Species for Conservation and Biodiversity Preservation” in an attempt to promote the importance of biodiversity preservation and sustainability of these two very significant species. Targets of 500 trees each were set for propagation and distribution to schools throughout SVG, private institutions and individuals who wished to have them. At the end of the project over 300 Soufriere Trees and 400 plus lignum vitae trees were propagated and given away.

Your quest of clarifying the myth of the endemism of the Soufriere Tree, brings to my mind deeper questions I have been asking myself and others for the past seven years. Should our national Tree (flower) be endemic, non endemic? Shouldn’t it be something ubiquitous throughout SVG and easily recognizable by all?

Now that we are renewed and reinvigorated at 40, is it perhaps a good time to redefine our national flower? And to perhaps one of our endemics, or at least to something with a more deeper cultural tie with our people?

Gordon J.P. Shallow Phytopathologist