The Loneliest Plant In The World

A cycad tree of the ancient species Encephalartos woodii was brought from Africa to the Kew Gardens in London in 1895. Since then, it has been cloned, but cannot reproduce in the normal way, because it is male -and it may be the only natural example of its species left in the world.
Researchers have wandered the Ngoya forest and other woods of Africa, looking for an E. woodii that could pair with the one in London. They haven't found a single other specimen. They're still searching. Unless a female exists somewhere, E. woodii will never mate with one of its own. It can be cloned. It can have the occasional fling with a closely related species. Hybrid cycads are sold at plant stores, but those plants aren't the real deal. The tree that sits in London can't produce a true offspring. It sits there, the last in its long line, waiting for a companion that may no longer exist.

"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."

The tree produced a cone in 2004 for the first time ever, which is the signal for reproduction, but there was no female for it to pollinate.

(Image credit: Andrew McRobb/RBG Kew)

Previously: Another species of cycad at Kew Gardens is even older.

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The story would be sad if it was true.

While Kew have just the one, it IS extinct in the wild and no female has ever been found, there are SEVERAL HUNDRED specimens being grown around the world. There is a very nice one at the Durban Botanic Gardens, a brother to the Kew one.

It can be crossed with female Encephalartos Natalensis plants (which it is believed to be a mutant of anyhow) and then the offspring can be bred back with the E. Woodii again, so that after three generations you effectively have a pure E. Woodii female. You can keep doing that, gradually eliminating E. Natalensis genes.

So the happy news is that E. Woodii is doing fine and may even be re-introduced to the wild some time in the future.
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Yet, the plant has no awareness-of-being-aware, so whatever awareness it has, it is not as an isolated self. So it knows not lonliness. Humans, on the other hand, have an integrated sense of self-hood, that by distinction, generates a divide between the self and the world at large. From whence the sense of lonliness originates. While both humans and plants are part of the seamless continuity of reality, and no definite separation exists between them, the plant suffers no delusion of its own separate existence and therefor does not experience death either. Humans have the special advantage of self-awareness, which delivers it's product through the misidentification of a discrete set of relations. Yet the human has the ability to revoke all such identities and return to it's unbridled state, within which one is neither this nor that and would in many respects be like the plant.
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