The “loneliest plant in the world” lives in San Francisco’s Presidio, but the National Park Services and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy are working to change that.
The only known wild Franciscan manzanita plant in the world was found growing in the Presidio in 2009 after it had previously been believed extinct outside of botanical gardens for 70 years.
Dubbed the “loneliest plant in the world,” the small shrub survived due to the lack of dense development in the 200-year-old army base, according to University of California Botanical Garden curator, Holly Forbes.
Being the last and only of its kind, the plant is protected as an endangered species but doomed to extinction without a mate that can cross-pollinate with it, said Michael Chasse, biologist for the National Park Service.
Luckily for the plant, Lester Rowntree, a well-known native plant horticulturist who died in the late 70s, saved trimmings from the once locally abundant plant and distributed them to botanical gardens at UC Berkeley and at the San Francisco Botanical Garden.
Using plants grown from Rowntree’s trimmings, an effort to find the ideal match to reproduce the endangered plant has been spearheaded by the National Parks Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, with the help of local botanical gardens, according to Forbes.
Park staff are now planting the potential mates throughout the 230 acres of San Francisco’s designated critical habitats, but it will take a few years for the plants to grow fertile flowers.
When the plant’s flowers are mature enough, officials hope the new plants will cross-pollinate with the wild Franciscan manzanita. Little apple-like berries will grow out of the plant’s flowers producing seeds that could spark the growth of a once-extinct species.