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5 of the world’s rarest plant species


Words by Ben Earl

1. Encephalartos woodii

‘Wood’s Cycad’ is officially the world’s rarest plant. It was a dominant species during the Jurassic era, but today there is only one known to exist which is safely protected in London’s Kew Gardens. Clones of the plant have been successfully grown in America and the Netherlands but because E.Woodii is ‘dioecious’, meaning it needs both male and female plants to reproduce, there is little hope for this tree to return to the wild.

2. Callitriche pulchra

This specific type of submerged Water-Starwort is only known to exist in a small pond on the island of Gavados, near Crete. Tourism to the island has put the plant at risk of being damaged and killed. If the pond were to drain, the species could be wiped out overnight.

3. Nepenthes attenboroughii

This carnivorous plant – named after the great explorer David Attenborough – received a lot of media attention due to its ability to trap and consume entire rats. Unfortunately, plant ‘poachers’ started stealing the plants from the wild to grow and sell, so it is now a protected species.

4. Rhizanthella gardneri 

This flower is known as the Western Underground Orchid as its petals never see the light of day, and it reproduces via insects living underground that pollinate its flowers. Only 19 specimens are known to exist in the wild. Due to agricultural disruption, the plants’ environment is rapidly decreasing.

5. Tahina spectabilis 

The aptly named ‘Suicide Palm’ grows up to 18 metres tall with leaves spanning 5 metres wide. It can grow for around 50 years before it produces any of its fruits and flowers. After which, it immediately dies. The species was discovered in 2007 with only around 100 mature plants thought to be in existence. It is now placed under protection from poaching and deforestation.