Botanists Fight to Save Tasmanian Ancient Root

Written by Katy Rohl
Lomatia Tasmanica, more commonly known as King’s Holly has been making headlines recently as potentially the worlds oldest plant. Scientists have recently been working relentlessly to attempt to replenish this endangered species and save King’s Holly from extinction.

Tasmanian explorer Denny King first uncovered the ancient species, Lomatia Tasmanica, in 1937. However, at the time, it was unclear as to the incredible age and rarity of this marvelous discovery. According to Greg Jordan from the University of Tasmania, “definitely to date it’s probably the best candidate for the oldest plant in the World.” It is believed that this unique plant is at least 43,000 years old. Therefore, Tasmanian botanists are working tirelessly to implement an intensive breeding program within Tasmania’s Royal Botanic Gardens for the root in the hopes of returning the species from its endangered status. This breeding program began in 2004 and botanists are still working to perfect the reproduction of the species.

At present, scientists believe that there are fewer than 500 plants still thriving in the wild. While this species has survived many trials throughout its history, the introduction of new diseases and the more predominant chance of fires have ultimately taken their toll. Saving this species is proving to be an arduous task for botanists and they are being forced to come up with creative solutions. “The King’s Holly doesn’t do sex” said University of Tasmania’s Mr Jordan. “That’s because it has three sets of chromosomes instead of two.” Instead of the plant reproducing sexually, new organisms are produced from branches that have fallen from existing plants. This simple idea is proving to be more difficult than expected. According to Natalie Tapson of Tasmania’s Royal Botanic Gardens who has been working with King’s Holly for around two decades said “One of the issues is you get this blackening off, so whenever you cut a stem it blackens and it dies, so it’s very very touchy.” After extensive research, Tapson believes, that attaching it to another plant could ultimately restore this species. She explained “By putting it on a root stock, it’s hoped that when you plant it out, or transfer it, you’re not going to have that loss because the root stock is stronger.”

With the fate of the ancient root, Lomatia Tasmanica, hanging in the balance, Tasmanian botanists are working hard to create a viable solution. With so many failed solutions already on the books, the ultimate question is whether a resolution will be created. What lays ahead for the oldest plant in the World.

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