The pictures depict the plant's remarkable resurrection within a matter of days when exposed to water.
The resurrection plant, Myrothamnus flabellifolius, showcases a fascinating adaptation in which its leaves appear lifeless and shrunken during dry seasons, yet remarkably revive to lush green within minutes of encountering water. This property, which is retained in branches removed from the plant for some time, has earned its name in many Southern African communities, as meaning “awake from the dead.”
This resilient shrublet stands at a height of 0.2 to 1.2 meters and can be found either singly or in colonies, often taking root in rocky outcrops with shallow soil of about 15cm depth. Interestingly, it is thought that the roots excrete organic acids that break down the rock on which they are growing, providing a soil nursery for itself and other plants, such as Sellaginella, often seen it association with the base of Myro plants (See picture).
M. flabellifolius and sellaginella (with courtesy from Rose Marks)
Through its extensive root system, the plant taps into water draining into rocky hollows after rainfall, initiating rapid rehydration.
The distribution of Myrothamnus flabellifolius is uniquely African, with a small western (Nambia) population and a broader South Eastern and somewhat Central African (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania) distribution, always on rocky outcrops with sometime extreme temperatures and seasonal rainfall. Its taxonomic family, Myrothamnaceae, is exclusive to two species: Myrothamnus flabellifolius and M. moschatus from Madagascar. The genus name is derived from the Greek words for 'perfumed bush with fan-like leaves', reflecting its aromatic qualities and unique foliage structure. Friedrich Welwitsch first recorded and named this plant in 1859.
Notably, Myrothamnus flabellifolius holds significance in African traditional medicine and culture. Its leaves contain essential oils such as camphor and eucalyptol, and many polyphenol antioxidants, collectively generating several medicinal and cosmetic properties. Indeed teas of dried leaves and stems have been used for centuries in Africa, while smoke from burning parts is inhaled to alleviate asthma and chest pains among the Pedi people. It finds various applications in different cultures, including wound healing, addressing colds and even fainting.
Researchers from the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Cape Town have conducted research on Myrothamnus flabellifolius, both in the field at Swebeswebe, and collected from Swebeswebe ,to acertain how this plant tolerates extreme desiccation, but with an applied vision of using such knowledge for production of drought tolerant crops. Their latest work on identifying bacteria and fungi associated with the roots of Myrothamnus has shown a strong symbiosis for facilitating drought tolerance (Tabele et al., 2023) and preliminary results show that maize grown in the presence of these microbes tolerates drought .
Edited by Prof. Jill Farrant
Department of Molecular and Cell Biology
University of Cape Town
Tabele, S.M., Marks, R.A. and Farrant, J.M. (2023). The belowground of resurrection plant Myrothamnus flabellifolia: Exploring the desiccation -tolerant root-associated microbiome Plant and Soil https://protect-za.mimecast.com/s/Q_qACxGzD1U1xLWMGC8XzBL