Johannesburg – The cycad, which is the world’s oldest living seed plant and has outlived the dinosaurs, faces extinction if people continue to wrench the plants from their wild habitats and plant them in gardens.
This is according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature on Wednesday.
In an address to delegates at the Biodiversity Convention in Japan, the IUCN said that cycads were the most threatened group of organisms to have been assessed by them so far.
The global conservation assessment of 308 cycad species shows that their status has declined from 53% threatened in 2003 to 62% threatened in 2010. The South African National Biodiversity Institute said the country was one of the world centres of cycad diversity with 39 species.
“It is also one of the global hotspots for threatened cycads with 68% of South Africa’s cycads threatened with extinction compared to the global average of 62%. From South Africa 31% are classified as critically endangered, compared to the global average of 17%.
“South Africa also has three of the four species classified as extinct in the wild, two of which have become extinct in the wild in the period between 2003 and 2010,” the institute said.
The removal of cycads from the wild for private collections has resulted in two species becoming extinct in the wild.
Bark harvesting for the medicinal trade has increased in South Africa and has also resulted in declines in cycad populations, even resulting in the complete loss of populations in KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, said the institute.
“We have seen dramatic declines in some species over ten years, one of them from around 700 plants to fewer than 100, and this is going to result in extinctions,” it said.