Lost and found: how a photographer sniffed out the magnolia species not seen for a century

Graeme Green

Imagine the privilege of smelling a wonderful perfume that no one else alive on Earth has smelled before,” says the conservation photographer Eladio Fernandez. This year, Fernandez had that pleasure. After a challenging search in the cloud forests of northern Haiti, he located several Magnolia emarginata, a critically endangered tree with white flowers that hadn’t been seen (or smelled) for almost a century.

“Magnolia have two attractive characteristics: their beautiful white flowers and their unique fragrance,” he says. Fernandez had been working with the conservation group Fundación Progressio on three species of magnolia in the Dominican Republic: Magnolia pallescensMagnolia domingensis and Magnolia hamorii. Scientists from the Haiti National Trust had also “rediscovered” a population of Magnolia ekmanii in 2011 in Grand Bois national park, south-west Haiti, after not being seen for more than 25 years.

Magnolia emarginata, one of five magnolia species on Hispaniola – all of which are endangered. 

Photograph: Haiti National Trust

One last species remained to be found: Magnolia emarginata, which the Swedish botanist Erik Leonard Ekman collected in 1925 in Haiti’s northern mountains, the last time it was seen in the wild….