Botanists Help Rare Plant End a Century of Sexlessness

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It's no secret that plants can be a bit wooden and unadventurous when it comes to their amorous pursuits, often requiring the aid of pollinators to facilitate reproduction. But for 'dwarf sumac', an endangered species native to Northern Georgia, the birds and the bees failed to perform their namesake duties -- leaving the love-hungry plants without sex for more than a century.

Thankfully, however, some human wingmen have stepped in to help the dwarf sumac finally hook up.

Although dwarf sumac was once more abundant across Georgia prior to human expansion, over the last 100 years their populations had dwindled to just two isolated group, one all-male, the other all-female, separated by miles of roads, fields, and houses.

So, without the ability to mingle with one another, the sexually homogeneous plants turned to cloning to reproduce themselves -- a sad means of last resort for any family-minded flowering plant. And as a result, genetic diversity among dwarf sumac came to a screeching halt, placing the entire species at greater risk of extinction.

But as scientists well know, being asexually active isn't nearly has fun or evolutionarily advantageous as having a partner, so they decided to bring the two lovelorn plants together.

The Athens Banner-Herald reports that botanists from the Atlanta Botanical Garden and Zoo Atlanta planted 20 female dwarf sumac shoots nearby the male group -- and it seems that, after finally being reunited, the endangered plants were eager to make up for lost time:

"The male shoots, which once numbered only about five, have rebounded to about 150," reports the Banner-Herald. "[Researchers] first gathered the possible proof of what could be the first time in more than a century the males and females had exchanged genetic material, at least in Georgia."

Researchers say that if the sumacs' seeds are found to have been produced by the rekindled sexual reproduction, they're hoping to boost the endangered species by planting even more in dedicated nurseries at the Zoo Atlanta.

Tags: Endangered Species | Georgia USA