The Plant Messiah: Adventures in Search of the World’s Rarest Species by Carlos Magdalena - review by Charles Elliott

Charles Elliott

Growing, Growing, Gone

The Plant Messiah: Adventures in Search of the World’s Rarest Species


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The world harbours some pretty odd plants. Growing in the Nazca Desert of Peru, for example, are Tillandsia (bromeliads otherwise known as air plants) that have been carbon dated as 14,000 years old. The rare Roussea simplex from the high altitude rainforest of Mauritius, described as ‘part liana and part shrub’, not only serves as host to hundreds of orchids but can also be pollinated only by the blue-tailed day gecko, itself nearly extinct. Then there is the Prosopis limensis, or huarango, a spiny tree of the pea family that can send down roots 250 feet in search of water. Its heartwood is second only to ironwood as the hardest in the world.

The problem is that many of these oddities – and thousands of others – are not only endangered but in many cases on the edge of extinction. When the last ones die, that will be the end. This is where Carlos Magdalena comes in.

Magdalena is a botanical horticulturist at Kew. He has made it his life’s work to try to save radically endangered plants – not those simply reduced in numbers and struggling, but also those with perhaps a few specimens, or at most a tiny contingent, surviving. As he shows in this

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