09 December 2011

Last of the Lomatia

Wondering what's going on here? This is a clipping of the 43,600-year-old Lomatia Tasmanica, propagated in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens.

There is only one single living individual Lomatia Tasmanica left in the world. It flowers, rarely, and there are pollen and a stigma in each flower, but as the plant is a triploid, it is sterile. [corrected from original post.] And it is 43,600 years old. How is that possible? It's growing clonally, as you've heard me talk about before: it continues to send up new shoots, without the introduction of new genetic material.

I was not granted permission to visit the Lomatia in the wild (more on my thoughts about the Tasmanian Parks Department later), though I was glad to see it in the Gardens. The clippings propagated there and one in Canberra are the only other places it can be found in the world, and even then it is not on public display. The clippings are so sensitive, in fact, that the only time one spent half a day in public view in slighly different conditions, it died. That hardly bodes well for its survival.

The Lomatia Tasmanica is continuing its line in the only possible way it can: by cloning itself over and over again, theoretically forever, though that is unlikely given the instability of our climate to come.

12,000-year-old Antarctic Beech

This image is of a fairy ring of Antarctic Beech which is probably around 12,000 years old, living in Queensland, Australia. The ring of trees is a single, clonal individual, growing vegetatively (as opposed to adding genetic material from another individual as in sexual reproduction.)

There are a number of other clonal Antarctic Beech living in the area, though not all have been studied. I was lucky enough to have botanist Rob Price, a veritable expert in all the local flora and fauna, guide me out to this stand, as well as others in the area. (Rob first got in touch with me after seeing my TED talk. So glad he did, as I otherwise might have missed them.)

Why Antarctic? These beauties used to cover Antarctica in its milder days, before its present iced-over state. As Gondwana broke apart 180 million years ago and the South got colder, the Antarctic Beeches worked themselves up to more suitable climes. Talk about going the distance.