These below are 9 strange and amazing plants living in most remote “corners” of the earth, which are critically rare. They are just as important to the ecosystem as any other, well-represented plants as humanity sustainability heavily relies on that ecosystem.
When we talk about extinction, we have to talk about plants as well because not only animals are endangered species. Creatures such as the critically-endangered black rhinoceros have been long in focus since, in some cases, they have been reduced to just a handful of parties.
So what are the most endangered plants?
The 9 of the most threatened plants today are almost all classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Predictably, these are plants that live in some of the most inaccessible, remote parts of our planet. The reasons for their conspicuous rarity are: habitat destruction, illegal collection, poaching, and natural competition with invading species.
1. Attenborough’s Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes attenboroughii)
Attenborough’s pitcher plant is known from the fairly- unreachable summit of Mount Victoria in Palawan in the Philippines. They count only a few hundred now. Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants that entrap animals in liquid-filled bowls called pitchers. Attenborough’s pitcher plant is one of the biggest plants, with pitchers up to 30cm in height that can easily trap and devour insects and rats.
A team of botanists discovered it in 2007 upon being tipped off by two Christian missionaries. It was named after the British natural history broadcaster, David Attenborough.
2. A Suicide Palm (Tahina spectabilis)
The “suicide palm” is actually a gigantic palm found only in remote parts of north-west Madagascar. It can live up to 50 years, flowers only once, and dies soon after. These rare suicide palms were discovered in 2005, by a cashew plantation manager during a family outing, and were genealogically described in 2008. With their trunks reaching amazing 18meters in height, and huge fan-leaves up to 5m across, the palms can be seen even on Google Earth. It is thought that there are only 90 samples of these palms in the wilderness.
3. Western underground orchid (Rhizanthella gardneri)
It is a very unusual orchid because it spends its entire plant life underground. What adds to its strangeness is the fact that it even flowers underground! It flowers in late May and early June, producing 100+ beige- to-reddish flowers, and a strong fragrance.
It only lives in the Broom bush shrub land in Western Australia. This pale plant lacks chlorophyll, so it cannot draw vital energy from sunlight like most plants. Instead, it takes nutrients from the roots of broom bush, by parasitizing the fungi associated with it.
The count of this orchid is thought to be less than 50 plants. The species has not been assessed by the IUCN, yet Western Australia classes it as critically endangered.
4. Golf ball (Mammillaria herrerae)
It can be found only in the distant mountains of Queretaro in Mexico. As it name suggests, the golf ball is a small whitish cactus that resembles a golf ball. Its beautiful pink flowers have made it popular with horticulturists, resulting in many wild cacti being illegally-collected. Due to this, its population has decreased more than 95% over the last 20 years!
5. Venda cycad (Encephalartos hirsutus)
This apparently-hairy Venda cycad is only known from Limpopo province in South Africa. It was first labeled as a new species in 1996. Similarly to the golf ball, it is threatened by people who illegally collect it for ornamental settings, so its population has been sharply declining. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the Venda cycad species is already extinct in the wild.
6. Jellyfish tree (Medusagyne oppositifolia)
The jellyfish tree was readily thought to be extinct, until it was rediscovered in the 1970s. It has got its name from its own fruit, which looks like a jellyfish when broken open. Being the only ‘living member’ of the family Medusagynaceae, it can be exclusively spotted in the Seychelles – on the island of Mahe that is. There are only about 86 mature jellyfish trees left in the world, and some of them do not reproduce any longer.
7. Poke-me-boy tree (Acacia anegadensis)
This plant with a hilarious name is an extremely spiny shrub found only on the islands of Anegada and Fallen Jerusalem in the British Virgin Islands. These islands are low-lying, so the trees could be easily swamped by sea level rise. The figure of their population is unknown, but the species is known to occur in an area of less than 10 sq. km. To boost their chances of survival, mature poke-me-boy trees are being cultivated in the nearby JR O’Neal Botanic Garden on Tortola, as well as at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, UK.
8. Ascension Island parsley fern (Anogramma ascensionis)
As you can see in the picture above, this tiny little fern looks like a miniature parsley plant. It thrives only on Ascension, a volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean.
It was believed to be extinct for more than 50 years, until 2009, when a team of botanists came across 4 ferns. They were growing precariously on an unstable cliff face of Ascension’s Green Mountain, in very harsh and dry weather conditions. In order to save the few heroic survivors, the researchers tended them for weeks, going down the ridge with a safety rope to water them and remove weeds. Then, as soon as the plants began to produce spores, the team cut small parts out of the ferns’ spore-forming parts, and sent them to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, UK, for further propagation.
Still, the fern remains an extremely rare plant, with about 40 mature individuals left in the wild.
9. Coral tree (Erythrina schliebenii)
The bright red flowers and spiny trunk of the coral tree can only be seen in the remote forests of south-east Tanzania. Although it was declared extinct in 1998, it was rediscovered in 2001 in a small forested patch.
However, the patch of forest was cleared to grow biofuels, so the species was feared to have gone extinct again, but luckily it was re-rediscovered in 2011. As for its population count, there are now fewer than 50 mature individuals out there in the wild, surviving in a single unprotected location.
Although “survival of the fittest” is the ruling condition in the world of flora and fauna, a lot can [and indeed should] be done to save these weakened and rare species from their total extinction and endemic representation. After all, completeness of the plant eco-system is what matters most for our human survival, and good health, as well.
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)