Plants for the End of the World: 15 Survivalist Species
They thrive in the world’s hottest deserts, the highest peaks and in sub-zero temperatures of the Arctic tundra. They die – or seem to – and then come back to life. They push and climb and overtake everything in their path. These 15 extreme plants have serious survival instincts, some adapting to the world’s harshest environments and others fiercely fighting to dominate their environments. If climate change or another catastrophic event were to wipe out most of life as we know it on Earth, would these be the plants that took over?
Kudzu: The Vine That Ate The South
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It grows up to three feet in a day. It kills most of the plants that it climbs over. It ruins cars and houses, covers fields and is near impossible to control. Kudzu was originally thought to be a boon when it was brought over from Asia to help manage erosion, but it got a little too comfortable in the climatic conditions in the southeast. Kudzu grows in three different ways – runners, rhizomes and seeds – so it can show up again years after it’s been removed from a site. It generally has to be killed with some combination of mowing, fire, herbicides and letting animals like goats and llamas graze on it. Pushing out other plants, kudzu is determined not just to survive but to reign supreme.
Resurrection Plant Rises from the Dead
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Someone gives you a strange gift: ‘Resurrection Plant’, it says, or Rose of Jericho. It looks like a tumbleweed – and essentially it is. A tight brown ball of dry plant material that seems dead. But place it in water, and what seems like a miracle will occur: the plant will slowly begin to unfurl, a green tinge coming back into its leaves. This desert plant, a member of the spikemoss family, is often sold as a novelty item. It developed this ability in its native Chihuahuan Desert on the U.S.-Mexico border, going dormant during drought and reviving when it rains.
Polar Plants: Arctic & Antarctic Survivors
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Did you know that the Arctic tundra supports 1,700 species of plants? Most of them grow in the milder areas around the edges, rather than in the snowy, glacial parts that we tend to associate with the Arctic. But some of them can survive in surprisingly cold environments. Two hardy Arctic plants include Salix arctica, also known as ‘Arctic willow‘, and Cladonia rangiferina, known as ‘Reindeer Moss‘. Arctic willow thrives in the Arctic’s temperature range of -70 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and has adapted to permafrost with a shallow rot system. Reindeer moss is actually a lichen, and earned its nickname by being an important food source for reindeer and caribou, being one of the only plant sources that’s still around in the dead of Arctic winter.
On the other end of the planet, in Antarctica, there is far less life. This continent has only two native vascular plants – Antarctic hair grass and pearlwort, found in clumps near the shore. Antarctica also has its own particular species of lichen, which are the only plants that survive farther inland.
Weltwitschia mirabilis: Practically Immortal
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Weltwitschia mirabilis is definitely among the world’s weirdest plants, with just two leaves, a stem base and roots. It appears to have many more leaves because they grow very long, often looping around each other and tearing into strips. Most have a life span of about 400 to 1500 years, but some live up to 2,000 years. Found in the deserts of Namibia and southern Angolia, the plant survives in this environment by collection condensation from fog and reaching underground water with its long taproot.