Gravity's Rainbow

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What We Killed Thursday

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Erythroxylum echinodendron

Erythroxylum echinodendron

Erythroxylum echinodendron was endemic to Cuba and was declared extinct in the wild in 1998.  Echinodendron means “spiny tree,” and you can see where it got its name in this herbarium specimen.  Erythroxylum is a tropical genus with about 250 species.

While this particular species was declared extinct in the wild rather than extinct, this damaged herbarium specimen is the only record I could find of Erythroxlym echinodendron.  There don’t seem to be any reintroduction projects in place or even specimens being studied in botanical gardens.

This is particularly sad since many Erythroxylum species are hosts for butterfly and moth larvae and some have powerful alkaloid compounds. Not only are we probably losing insect species with the loss of this plant, but we’ve lost a plant that could have contained chemicals for new medications.

While you may have never heard the word “Erythroxylum,” a large number of your tax dollars are spent trying to control a particular species in this genus.  You may have even used a product of  Erythroxylum coca.

While most people wouldn’t recognize this shrub,

Erythroxylum coca

Erythroxylum coca

everyone knows what its most valuable product looks like:

Our use of coal is very, very bad for the environment and everything in it – including us.  While we won’t stop using coal anytime soon, we can decrease the damage it does with stronger regulations.  Write a letter.

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