I was hovering around the plants in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden gift shop, feeling disappointed that the new shipment hadn’t yet arrived, when my eye fell upon a basketful of brown, withered Resurrection Plants, each looking like a shriveled-up fern trying to hide in a small plastic bag. The label promised that this unpromising mass would become a “beautiful green fern” once it was hydrated for 24 hours in a bowl of water.
Around this time of year, I feel the need for a dramatic resurrection so I plunked down my $3–I get a 20% discount since I’m a docent there–and tucked the little bag into my purse. It wasn’t a big investment into what seemed too good to be true. (I was feeling sceptical, having just read The New Yorker article on all of the foreclosures in Florida, where indeed the deal was too good to be true.)
While the little brown mass was expanding–at an alarming rate that put me in mind of The Little Shop of Horrors–I went googling around and found the following on the faculty.ucc.edu/biology site:
The Resurrection Plant is one of over 700 species in the Selaginella genus of plants. 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 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
What distinguishes the Resurrection Plant from most other lycopods is where it lives and how it copes with its environment. Found from Texas and Arizona south to El Salvador, the Resurrection plant is a desert inhabitant. Growing from rock outcroppings or in dry soil, its close neighbors would be mostly cacti and other arid-loving species. Under these conditions, most other lycopods would perish, but the Resurrection Plant thrives.
When the soil is moist after infrequent rains, a Resurrection 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 neighbors, so it folds up its stems into a tight ball as it desiccates and goes into a state of dormancy. 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. When the rains return, the plant’s cells rehydrate. 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.
Here’s how the plant looks after soaking it over night:
Now I’m going to pot it up in loose soil and see if it continues to grow. I’ll keep you posted.