Plant extinct? Find it and win

People who study Cayman’s environment are afraid that a delicate little flowering plant may be extinct.

But anyone who proves them wrong will win $1,000 and a place in Cayman natural history.

The plant is the salvia caymanensis, a graceful part of flora that can reach to a height of up to three feet, with tiny blue flowers and a silvery cast to the underside of its leaves.

The reward is offered through the Darwin Initiative, a programme to conserve endangered plants and animals. Partners include the Department of Environment, the National Trust and the Garden Club.

The salvia caymanensis is one of 32 species of plants and trees the Darwin Initiative is concentrating on in Cayman. The first step of an action plan for the plant’s preservation is to determine whether it is in fact extinct, said Mr. Mat Cottam, senior research officer with DoE.

‘I thought offering a cash reward seemed like a good way to get as many people as possible involved in the search,’ Mr. Cottam said. ‘You never know – someone may just discover a long-lost species growing in the backyard.’

The sought-after plant has been called Cayman sage, but apparently there are some other aromatic plants also called Cayman sage. It should not be confused with salvia serotina.

Serotina is a weed, found in pastures and cultivated fields. It usually grows to no more than 12 inches high.

Another plant, wild tobacco, might also be confused with the salvia caymanensis. The tobacco may grow to two or three feet, but its flowers are almost purple and its leaves are the same colour underneath as on top.

Salvia caymanensis, endemic to Grand Cayman, was previously found in sandy thickets and clearings. It is believed to flower in June, so around now could be a good time to start looking, Mr. Cottam suggested. The leaf has also been described as having a densely white-woolly underside.

Anyone who thinks he has found Cayman sage should leave it in place and notify Mr. Cottam. The plant should not be picked or cut.

‘The reward will not be given for cuttings, up-rooted samples or look-alike species,’ he said.

He can be contacted at [email protected]

If the finder has a digital camera, he or she could attach some close-up pictures of the specimen for faster identification.

But lack of a camera is not a deterrent. Mr. Cottam will be happy to hear from anyone by phone as well. He can be reached at 949-8469.

The best approach to identifying the desired plant, he summarised, is to look for the flowers, and then check the undersides of the leaves.

If no plants are found, there is one last novel approach in the Darwin initiative Action Plan, Mr. Cottam said. Dried specimens in the herbarium at the National Trust would be examined to see if they have any seeds. If there are, an attempt will be made by the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew to try to propagate them.

Preservation and old age make it unlikely that any such seeds would be viable. ‘But then again, nothing ventured, nothing gained,’ Mr. Cottam said.