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Endangered Flowers & Plants

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, we'll be exploring some examples of endangered flowers and plants. We'll review what it means when a species is endangered and examine five very unique endangered species.

What Is an Endangered Plant Species?

Everyone knows and loves many endangered animal species. Majestic elephants struggle for survival on the African Savanna. Many of us have snuggled with a stuffed panda bear, one of the most beloved endangered animals. But, animals aren't the only organisms that can be endangered. Plants and flowers, although maybe not something we'd want to cuddle before bed, are just as important to our global ecosystem.

Endangered species are species that are threatened by extinction and have very few numbers left in the world. Many endangered species are being threatened by illegal poaching, habitat destruction and pollution. Plants are no exception to this. Plants form the bottom of our food chain, providing energy to all other organisms in the ecosystem. Plants also act as homes for other animals and regulate mineral content, soil erosion and water availability in the environment. Today, we'll be looking at some very cool examples of endangered plants from all over the world.

Attenborough's Pitcher Plant

Now, at this point you might be feeling sorry for the endangered plants. At least the animals have a way to defend themselves. But, not all plants are so helpless. Attenborough's pitcher plant is a carnivorous plant living on the top of Mount Victoria in the Philippines. Pitcher plants are known for their pitcher-like basins. The sap inside the basin smells deliciously sweet to insects. As the insects approach the slippery rim of the pitcher, called the peristome, they struggle to hold on, sliding into the pitcher. Inside the pitcher are digestive juices, much like our stomach. The juices start to eat the insect alive, digesting it before it can escape. These plants can clearly stand up for themselves in the wild, but they are threatened by human poaching. The pitcher isn't quite big enough to capture a human.

The Attenborough pitcher plant is an endangered carnivorous plant
pitcher plant

Rafflesia Flower

Okay, so some endangered plants consume prey and digest them alive in their pitchers. But surely, other plants, especially the flowering ones, must be friendly? Surprisingly, the answer is no. The rafflesia flower is one of the largest flowers in the world, spanning nearly three feet across and weighing up to 24 pounds. However, unlike other flowers, this one is parasitic, and depends on another plant called the Tetrastigma for food. Fungi-like strands extend from the rafflesia flower, worming themselves into the vines of the Tetrastigma, sucking nutrients away. To make this flower even creepier, natives in Southeastern Asia called it the 'corpse flower,' named for the delicious smell of rotting meat emanating from its petals. People aren't too interested in poaching this smelly flower, but destruction of its habitat is a prime reason for its endangered status.

The rafflesia flower has fungi-like strands.
Rafflesia Flower

Welwitschia mirabilis

Although perhaps the least attractive of our endangered plants selection, the Welwitschia mirabilis is probably the most benign. Living over 2,000 years, this ancient plant only lives in the deserts of Nambia in Africa. These strange plants are actually trees, extending from the soil with only two leaves. The leaves continue to grow as the plant ages, sometimes for thousands of years. The leaves aren't replaced, but rather are worn and tattered growing along the ground, which makes it seem like there are multiple leaves. This nest of dry, shredded leaves might look a mess, but it's one of the oldest living things on Earth, proving quite successful despite its appearance. Low numbers are due to low survival rate of new plants and fungal pathogens.

Welwitschia mirabilis is one of the oldest living organisms
Welwitschia mirabilis

Ghost Orchid

The ghost orchid is quite the opposite of the Welwitschia mirabilis. Delicate, pure white, petals dance in the warm, humid Florida air. The ghost orchid is unable to live on its own. It has no green leaves, or photosynthetic branches to help it make food from the Sun's energy. Rather, the ghost orchid relies on a fungus in its roots to obtain nutrients in a symbiotic relationship. Ghost orchids only bloom for a few weeks in June and July in the peak of summer heat. One insect, the Sphinx moth, is the pollinator. With such few pollinators and few numbers of ghost orchids, increasing the population size has proved challenging.

Ghost orchids are an endangered plant species in Florida
ghost orchid

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