When Darwin landed on Charles Island (Floreana) on 23rd September 1835 he observed a scrambling vine apparently suffocating the rest of the flora. This rampant plant of the family Cucurbitaceae, the squashes and cucumbers, was “in great beds injurious to vegetation”, clambering over the rest of the plants by means of its numerous tendrils. This pernicious plant was subsequently named by Joseph Hooker as Sicyos villosa, a new species of this widespread Pacific and Australian genus. The specific name refers to its coating of rough, shaggy hairs.
Remarkably, this species was never collected again, nor was it even noted by later visitors to the island and is extinct today. We presume it died out soon after Darwin’s visit. Perhaps it was particularly abundant when Darwin saw it since he remarks that there had been “an unusual quantity of rain at this time of year”. Its demise may have been due to the “wild pigs and goats which abound” on the island, providing fresh meat both for its penal colony and for passing ships.
The image on this card is from a sheet that is the only record of this intriguing species.