April 18, 2021

A Prehistoric Plant Set To Reproduce In UK After 60 Million Years, Possibly Due To Climate Change

The topic of climate change is inescapable nowadays. As it’s negative effects are felt every day across the globe, it’s only natural for people to talk about it every day.

The topic may be contentious for many but it’s something that cannot be ignored by anyone these days.

Climate change is represented in various for – in writing, presentation, tv segments, in seminars, conventions, and pop-culture.

While its effects have mostly been devastating, it’s interesting to know that some parts of the world have actually seen some positive changes because of these.

For example, an ancient plant in the UK, which hadn’t been seen for over 60 million years has begun to remerge as a result of the planet heating up.

A botanical garden in the UK was able to produce male and female Cycad cones outdoors.

Photo: Ventnor Botanic Garden

The fertile cycads plants were seen around the time when dinosaurs lived on the Earth. Around 60 million years ago, they grew naturally in the United Kingdom, according to experts. They believe increased planetary temperature has encouraged the plants to make a comeback to the UK shores.

Before its re-emergence, the plant has been discovered in fossil form in Alaska and Antarctica. However, they could never thrive and grow due to cool temperatures. But all that changed in the UK recently. As the planet’s core is heating up, the plant that needs tropical and subtropical conditions has once again started to grow.

The Ventnor Botanic Garden on England’s Isle of Wight announced the appearance of female and male cycad cones earlier this month. This is the first time the garden has recorded a female cone appearing naturally in the UK A male cone appeared seven years ago—but they’ve never flowered in the UK at the same time since humans have been around to capture the moment. Officials point to climate change as the explanation.

“For us, it’s the plants telling us about climate change,” John Curtis, the director of the Ventnor Botanic Garden, told Earther. “For a plant to effectively try and reproduce, conditions have to be correct. And that’s not one hot day. That’s a drift of climate for more than a year, a full growing cycle.”

Interestingly, they are producing both male and female cones.

Male cone (Photo: Stan Shebs [CC BY-SA 3.0])

Cycas revoluta is now being cultivated at the Ventnor Botanic Garden on the Isle of Wight. The comparatively higher temperature in the region is perfect for the plants to grow.

“This is the first female cone out of doors in the United Kingdom. This presents us with an exciting opportunity to transfer pollen and generate seeds for the first time in the United Kingdom for 60 million years,” Ventnor said in an online statement.

The gardeners cultivated the process of regrowing Cycas after noticing the repeated heatwaves in Europe in the past few years.

This gives them the possibility to pollinate and create seeds for the first time in 60 million years.

Female cone (Photo: Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0])

These cones growing there today signals that the climate crisis may be influencing ancient plants in lands they haven’t seen in some time. Curtis believes this is a result of local averages temperatures rising. Last July was literally the world’s hottest month and records were set in a slew of European cities, including the UK. All that heat was good for the cycads.

“Conditions must be improving or triggering for us to get a male and a female at the same time,” Curtis told Earther. “For us, it’s just a symptom of the changing climate. It’s the plants talking to us and responding to these favorable conditions.”

Who knows what’ll sprout where next. For now, botanists are enjoying this wonder. Those at the Ventnor Botanic Gardens plan to manually pollinate the plants to produce some seed in what will be another historic event for the record books.