The Loneliest Plant on Earth

Jill Harness

Encephalartos woodii is the plant equivalent of Lonesome George, the world's last remaining giant Galapagos tortoise. Also known as Wood's cycad, the only one we know of is a lonely male tree in London. Because this type of tree only has pollen or seeds in any given individual, it requires a pair of trees to make a fertile seed.

After surviving through the dinosaur age and making it all the way to modern times, the plant might finally meet its end. Scientists are desperately searching for another surviving tree in the African wilderness, where the original sample was discovered. No one yet knows how long the tree will live, but it's likely that when it does die out, a handful of clones and hybrids will be the only things keeping the DNA strand alive.

NPR's tale of the tree is a fascinating read describing its extensive history and its current sad state.

[Image by Andrew McRobb, RBG Kew]