5 of the World’s Rarest and Most Endangered Plants

Did you know there are roughly 391,000 known species of plants in the world? Not only that, thousands of new species are discovered almost every year. As people who love all things green and growing, we think that’s pretty cool.

Some of the plants that fascinate us the most are the ones that are exceptionally hard to find. Many of them require precise environmental factors to grow, and can only thrive in specific parts of the world. In fact, a few plants have a natural habitat that ranges just a few miles, or even less.

Photo Credit: Jean and Fred Hort

The world’s rarest plants also happen to be some of the strangest and most beautiful organisms on Earth. With so many to talk about, we could go on for days—but after a little deliberation, we settled on five of our favorites.

Western Underground Orchid.
This is truly a weird one: a plant that spends its entire life living underground. But that’s exactly what the Western Underground Orchid does in its home habitat of Western Australia, where it was discovered back in 1928.

What makes this plant especially odd is that since it has no access to sunlight, it gets its energy and nutrients from fungus, and from the broom honeymyrtle. The Western Underground Orchid does flower, although unless dug up, the flowers stay underground with the root system. Only about 50 of these bizarre plants are known to exist across six populations in Australia.

Pitcher plant.
If you’ve never seen a pitcher plant before, you might be a little shocked by its appearance. They actually do look like a pitcher and can grow to enormous sizes. These otherworldly plants only inhabit small sections of South American rainforests, and require extremely high levels of precipitation to grow.

Pitcher plants are carnivores. They trap prey by luring it to the rim of the pitcher area with nectar, and the slippery surface causes the unfortunate meal to fall in. The pitcher plant proceeds to drown its prey, dissolve it, and absorb the nutrients. While they mostly eat insects, pitcher plants have been known to feed on small mammals, including mice!

Jellyfish tree.
Growing only in Seychelles, a group of islands off the coast of East Africa, the jellyfish tree has one of the smallest habitats of any plant. Over the last 100 years, it was twice thought to be extinct, but has been rediscovered in the wild much to the relief of plant

Photo Credit: Christopher Kaiser-Bunbury

enthusiasts. The jellyfish tree gets its name because of its fruit, which resembles a jellyfish.

There’s a unique issue with jellyfish trees: Its seeds don’t germinate in its natural habitat. As such, researchers have never found a young plant, and the current population of perhaps 80 plants is quite old. Luckily, botanists have germinated seeds in artificially humid conditions, but it remains to be seen if they will ever grow again naturally.

Corpse flower.
Despite its morbid name, the corpse flower is quite distinctive and beautiful, but unfortunately emits a scent that many describe as smelling like decomposition. The corpse flower also happens to be huge—the whole plant can get up to 20 feet tall and almost 16 feet wide—and only grows naturally in two small areas of Indonesia. Large specimens can weigh hundreds of pounds.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the corpse flower is that it can take up to a decade to bloom. Subsequent blooms come at irregular intervals, with some flowers continuing to only bloom once every seven to ten years. When you consider that corpse flowers only have a pollination window of about one or two days, it’s easy to see why these plants are so rare.

Wood’s cycad.
The Wood’s cycad is quite possibly the rarest plant on this list. Scientists believe it is completely extinct in the wild, but there are specimens living in several botanical gardens throughout the world. All living plants are clones grown from clippings taken from a few surviving specimens that were gathered by researchers near the beginning of the 20th century.

As a native to South Africa, the Wood’s cycad looks like a pretty typical palm tree. It has a wide, sturdy trunk, and can grow as high as 20 feet. While the Wood’s cycad does have both male and female varieties, a female plant has never been discovered, so they can’t reproduce naturally unless one is found. Here’s hoping that botanists come across one someday so we can see what a female plant looks like!

If you haven’t noticed, we can get pretty excited about rare plants. But we also hope that many of these plants won’t stay rare forever, and that due to conservation efforts, they will once again have vibrant, plentiful populations. Protecting our world’s fragile ecosystems has never been more important—and we hope this list helps prove that.

We also happen to have some unique and gorgeous plants that grow right here in Indiana. If you’re looking to add beautiful plants to your landscape, we can help. We also offer our interior plant program for businesses, and can assist with landscape design and installation, too. Want to learn more? Give us a call today!

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