Help us save Chamaegigas intrepidus - the resurrection plant
During the good rains in Namibia in the 2005/2006 season, the local Millennium Seed Bank Partnership team succeeded in collecting seed of the remarkable and rare aquatic plant Chamaegigas intrepidus. You can help Kew safeguard this plant for our future by adopting a seed for yourself, or as a gift for £25.
This member of the snapdragon family (Scrophulariaceae) is the only plant species in its genus and unique to Namibia.
During most years in Namibia, rains are not adequate for this plant to make its appearance, so Kew's conservation team were extremely lucky to find a sufficiently large population at the right moment for seed collection.
This year was the first time that rain fall in Namibia had met average or above average falls in as many as 30 years, so we may not see this plant species seed again for a while.
Finding the resurrection plant
Chamaegigas intrepidus was first discovered in 1909 by Kurt Dinter, one of the early botanists active in Namibia. Because of its small stature and gigantic lifestyle, it is aptly named C. intrepidus, which literally translates to 'intrepid dwarf giant'. It occurs exclusively in small, shallow ephemeral pools, no deeper than about 15 cm, on top of large rock plates in the central-west region of Namibia.
At the base of the pools, a thin layer of coarse sand, debris from algae and aquatic invertebrates, animal dung and leaf litter accumulates. The compressed mass of roots (rhizomes), which are about 1 mm in diameter in their dried state, are embedded in this layer.
The plant has to cope not only with drying and refilling of pools, but also daily fluctuations of temperature and pH. During the dry season (up to 11 months of the year), rhizomes can be exposed to temperatures of up to 50 °C and even when rock pools are filled, water temperatures of up to 40 °C have been reported with night temperatures down to 6 °C.
Surviving harsh environments
Chamaegigas intrepidus is a true resurrection plant that has occupied and amazed many researchers. Several anatomical and biochemical adaptations have been shown, which enable the plant to survive in its harsh environment.
During the course of a wet season, rock pools can become dry and re-filled 15-20 times. Plants halt their development during dry periods and simply resume growth once the pools re-fill. Floating leaves can grow to the surface of the water within two to-four days after pools receive water. Flowering has been reported to occur only four days after continuous hydration. Seeds germinate and produce their first true basal leaves (leaves that grow at the base of herbaceous plants) within nine days.
The very shallow sediment of pools gets leached rapidly when overflowing during heavier rainfall periods. Several adaptations assist the plant to cope with this. The depositing of urine by animals on the rock surfaces surrounding pools plays an important role in the nutrient balance of plants. On the other hand, livestock in search for water also trample the pools. It was observed during the dry years before 2006 that in many pools the shallow bottom layer was completely pulverised, where mats of plants had turned over and been destroyed.
Collecting seeds from this small plant presents quite a challenge and most of the seeds that we found were from plants in pools that had almost dried out. To collect the seeds we would lye on our stomach next to the pool and pick the tiny seed capsules from under the four floating leaves with a pair of tweezers, taking care not to crush the fragile structure. Since the rocks around the pools warm up considerably from 11 am, this activity had to take place early in the mornings. But this was an opportunity not to be missed - even though I was strictly speaking on holiday!
Story by Herta Kolberg, NBRI, Namibia
You can adopt this seed for yourself, or as a gift for £25.
When you Adopt a Seed, you'll receive a personalised certificate, featuring your plant species, as a downloadable PDF document you can print off, and regular updates over the year from the Millennium Seed Bank.
For an additional £2, you can have an Adoption Pack posted (either to you, or direct to a gift recipient) featuring a certificate and a full colour picture of your species (UK only).
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