The Loneliest Plant in the World

Robert Krulwich, writing for NPR, about the only known specimen of Encephalartos woodii, a prehistoric tree.

“Surely this is the most solitary organism in the world,” writes biologist Richard Fortey, “growing older, alone, and fated to have no successors. Nobody knows how long it will live.”

J. R. R. Tolkein, in his The Lord of the Rings series, imagined this situation in a different way. He wrote of a race of “tree spirits,” who could move (slowly), talk (even more slowly because their lifespan was so long, they never had to hurry). He called them “ents” and they too lost their females; their “entwives” had wandered off to a distant, devastated and unreachable place, and now the male ents were unable to mate, and like the last cycad, they were doomed. Unless…(there’s always an “unless…”).

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The Loneliest Plant in the World