The “loneliest plant in the world” for which scientists are looking for a partner

The “loneliest plant in the world” for which scientists are looking for a partner
The “loneliest plant in the world” for which scientists are looking for a partner

Image source, University of Southampton

Caption, The plant was only found in 1895 in South Africa.
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  • Author, Drafting
  • Role, BBC News World
  • 2 hours

It is known as the loneliest plant, a species among the most endangered in the world of which only male specimens remain.

With the help of artificial intelligence (AI), scientists have launched a search for a companion.

With that objective, a research project led by the University of Southampton, England, is combing thousands of hectares of forest in South Africa, the only place where the Encepahalartos woodii (E. woodii).

The Encephalartos woodii It is in fact almost completely extinct. Only male clones of the only known wild specimen are preserved, so its natural reproduction is impossible.

This species existed before dinosaurs walked the Earth, but today it is endangered and is considered one of the most endangered organisms on the planet.

Image source, University of Southampton

Caption, Dr. Laura Cinti leads the project to find a female of the rare plant.

Dr Laura Ciniti, a researcher at the University of Southampton, is leading a project that is using drones and artificial intelligence to find females of E. woodii.

“The history of the E. woodii It inspired me a lot; “It seems like one of those classic tales of unrequited love,” she said.

“I’m hoping there’s a female somewhere out there; after all, there must have been one at some point. It would be amazing to recover this plant so close to extinction through natural reproduction“.

Image source, University of Southampton

Caption, This species of plant predates the appearance of the dinosaurs.

The only known specimen of the species was found in 1895 in the oNgoye forest, near the eastern coast of South Africa.

It was a male, and another was never found, so all copies of E. woodii currently existing are clones also male of that only known wild specimen.

Drones are taking aerial photographs of the forest, which are then analyzed by AI tools for the plant. For now, they have covered less than 2% of the almost 4,100 hectares of the forest.

Image source, University of Southampton

Caption, Never before has the entire oNgoye forest been explored in search of a female.

Dr. Cinti explains: “We used an image recognition algorithm to identify plants by their shape. We generated images of plants and put them in different ecological scenarios to teach the model to recognize them.”

Never before has this forest been fully explored to establish whether the long-awaited female Wood’s cycad exists.

Experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London, still cultivate and propagate the species. Visitors can see it there.

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