Conservationists race to save Georgia’s colchis boxwoods from extinction

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An ancient plant that survived the Ice Age and became synonymous with the forests of the Caucasus region is now threatened with extinction.

The boxwood or Colchis boxwood – considered sacred in Georgia – has been in decline in recent years, prompting conservationists to redouble their efforts in an attempt to save the famous tree.

In recent years, diseases and pests have caused considerable damage to Colchis boxwood. The pests, which feed on the leaves and bark of box trees as they progress from larval caterpillars to moths, have defoliated thousands of hectares of these ancient trees, from Russia to Abkhazia and Georgia.

A single caterpillar can eat dozens of leaves during its development, with hundreds of caterpillars sometimes feeding on single bushes.

“The past two years have been devastating for boxwood species around the world,” says Rezo Getiashvili, forestry program coordinator for the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network.

“It was a kind of pandemic, which destroyed boxwood everywhere. This includes Buxus Colchica, which is endemic to the Caucasus and only grows here natively. There are two reasons for this: fungal disease, blight of the boxwood and the parasitic boxwood borer,” he says.

Symbol of eternity endangered by religious rites

In Georgia, the plant attracts the most attention during the Christian holiday of Palm Sunday, a week before Easter Sunday. In local tradition, people decorate their homes with boxwood branches as a symbol of eternity and prosperity.

However, this custom prompted the Georgian government to issue a call in 2017 for citizens to join its Grow Your Own Boxwood campaign.

Former Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili asked worshipers to refrain from cutting down the tree for Palm Sunday or using the cut twigs to grow new plants.

Sandro Narsia, a student, has been working on species conservation since 2016. Narsia founded a box tree nursery and brought young trees back to the forests himself.

“The Colchis evergreen boxwood has its sacred significance because it is a relic, an ancient species, which has shown its strength and managed to survive despite many biological changes,” Narsia said. “That’s why Georgians consider it a symbol of eternity.”

“Natural pests, diseases and man-made damage have completely overshadowed natural causes. Due to its ritual use, people harvest trees and branches from forests. ‘species.”

“My advice to people would be to buy potted plants, grow them at home and save the species from extinction,” he said.

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