Sunday, 6 March 2011

Self-Study - Resurrection Plant

A phenomenon! For my birthday in November, my flatmate bought me a Resurrection Plant - what is this plant I hear you ask? Well... it is the green desert fern Selaginella lepidophylla.

The idea behind this retailing masterpiece is that it is "The Plant You Cannot Kill!"

"This Resurrection Plant is a desert variety belonging to the moss family. It has learnt to survive in very dry regions by contracting into a dry ball to be carried along by the wind until it settles in water. It will then unfold its fern-like fronds and renew itself as if 'resurrected' from the dead."

"This unusual behaviour can be repeated many times or until the plant finds a permanent damp place to set down its roots, when it will make an easy to care for and attractive houseplant."

"Growing Instructions: Place the dry plant into a container of water and within a few hours the plant will begin to 'come back to life'. It will remain green until deprived of water - when it will again curl up as if dead. To grow the plant in potting compost - simply push the root ball into damp soil and keep the roots moist. If the plant begins to curl up, add water to revive. Keep above 10 degrees C, away from direct sunlight."


It takes around 3 hours after the roots have been wetted for the fern to "unfurl".


Selaginella lepidophylla is a species of desert plant in the spikemoss family, Selaginellaceae. It is noted for its ability to survive almost complete desiccation; during dry weather in its native habitat, its stems curl into a tight ball and uncurl when exposed to moisture - it is native to the Chihuanhuan Desert.

Common names for this plant include: False Rose of Jericho, Rose of Jericho, Resurrection Plant, Dinosaur Plant, Siempre viva, Stone flower, and Doradilla.

S. lepidophylla is easily confused with Anastatica, both species are resurrection plants and form tumbleweeds, they also share the common name "Rose of Jericho".

The plant is now sold as a novelty item, as a bare root in its dry state which can be revived with only a little water. Historically however, when the Spanish Friars entered the New World, including the area that was to become the United States, they used the plant to demonstrate to the Natives the concept of being "reborn".

Botanical Details

Selaginella: from the Latin "selago" (A type of juniper we now call savin juniper. Selaginella's have juniper-like foliage), and the Latin "ella" meaning small.

lepidophylla: from the Latin meaning scaly-leaved.

It is one of 700 species. All of them are primitive plants, fitting somewhere between mosses and ferns in the hierarchy of plant evolution. They belong to a group of plants known as the lycopods, whose members go by the common names of ground pines and club mosses. All are relatively small (up to about one foot tall) and are found around the world, usually in moist locations with mosses and ferns. They reproduce by single-celled spores, and lack flowers, fruits and seeds. Even their "leaves" are not really leaves, but instead leaf-like extensions of the stem. What lycopods consist of then, are roots, stems with scales, and club-like strobili that produce spores.

A desert inhabitant, it can be found growing from rock outcroppings or in dry soil, its close neighbours would be mostly cacti and other arid-loving species. Under these conditions, most other lycopods would perish.
When the soil is moist after infrequent rains, the plant absorbs water and grows rapidly, producing a flat rosette of scaly stems up to one foot across. As the soil dries, it cannot store water like its succulent neighbours, so it folds up its stem into a tight ball as it desiccates and goes into a state of dormany. The folded plant has a limited surface area, and what little internal moisture is present is conserved. All metabolic functions are reduced to a bare minimum and it appears to be dead. The plant can remain in this dormant condition for years, then when the rain returns, the plant's cell rehydrates. The stems unfold, metabolism increases, and growth resumes. Even dead Resurrection plants will unfold if given water, since rehydrated cells expand even if there is no living protoplasm in them.

As a lycopod, the Resurrection Plant can trace its ancestors far back into history. They appeared at least 400 million years ago as small plants similar in appearance to those that are alive today. Their period of prominence however, came later. Between 345 and 280 million years ago they dominated the plant world as giant trees over 100 feet tall with trunks 6 feet in diameter at the base. These swamp inhabiting trees became important contributors to the coal deposits we exploit today. Cooler climates and other, as yet unidentified factors, caused these giant lycopods to become extinct. But their smaller relatives, like the Resurrection Plant, persisted in a changing world.
Today the lycopods make up an inconspicuous remnant of what were once the largest plants on earth. The ability to adapt to one's surroundings has always been the key to survival. In that respect the seemingly insignificant Resurrection Plant is an eminent example of perseverance.

Uses

Despite being a decorative plant, S. lepidophylla has also been used as a herbal medicine. An infusion is made by steeping a tablespoon of dried material in hot water, the tea is used as an antimicrobial in cases of colds and sore throats.
An infusion also has salutary effects on the kidney and liver, and breaks up gallstones.

References
  1. Hawkins Bazaar - product purchase: Resurrection Plant

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