Bringing back extinct plants to life

Carlos Magdalena lives and breathes plants. He’s obsessed with them. But he also understands why many people aren’t.

“Plants are not as obvious as animals,” he tells Mongabay. “You see an animal and it’s very easy for you to feel empathy for the animal because you’re an animal too. But you cannot see a plant truly until you know it well, until you know the facts surrounding it, what pollinates it, what magic tricks it can do.”

Magdalena, a botanical horticulturalist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, U.K., has figured out many of these tricks. He’s especially drawn to plants that are extremely endangered and down to their last or just a handful of individuals in the wild. He travels around the world collecting seeds and cuttings of such extremely rare plant species, then brings them back to the Royal Botanic Gardens, where, together with his colleagues, he sets about trying to unravel the plants’ mysteries. Take Nymphaea thermarum, the world’s smallest known water lily, for example. After the species went extinct in its only habitat in Rwanda in 2008, Magdalena managed to crack the code and germinate the plant’s seeds at Kew after several failed attempts.

As in the case of the lily, sometimes making a rare species grow is a struggle that can span decades. Other times it’s surprisingly easy. So there’s hope, Magdalena says, that some of the plants that we are losing could be very easily propagated and saved.

Read more at Mongabay (Shreya Dasgupta)

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