An overview of the biology of the desiccation-tolerant resurrection plant Myrothamnus flabellifolia.

Journal Article


Journal Title

Annals of Botany

Journal ISSN
Volume Title

Oxford University Press


University of Cape Town

Myrothamnus flabellifolia (Welw.) is a relatively large resurrection plant, a woody shrub between 0.5 m and 1.5 m tall (Sherwin et al., 1998) that grows on rock inselbergs (Porembski and Barthlott, 2000) throughout southern Africa (Weimarck, 1936; Van Wyk et al., 1997; Glen et al., 1999). The plant was first recorded in 1859 by Friedrich Welwitsch, who named the plant Myrothamnus (myron meaning aromatic and thamnos meaning bush) flabellifolia (meaning fan-like leaves) (Puff, 1978a; Glen et al., 1999), the leaves having a balsamic-like odour (Puff, 1978a; Glen et al., 1999). Weiss (1906) was the first to note the ‘miraculous manner’ with which the desiccated plant revived when supplied with water (Fig. 1A, B). Myrothamnus flabellifolia occupies an important position in traditional African folklore and medicine (Watt and Breyer-Brandwijk, 1962; Hutchings, 1996; Van Wyk et al., 1997). The Zulu name for the plant is ‘uvukwaba- file’ (wakes from the dead). The reviving ability is believed to be passed on to the ill person during treatment (Hutchings, 1996; Van Wyk et al., 1997). The plant is a geophyte possessing an extensive root system which extends into the crevices of the rocky slopes upon which it grows (Child, 1960; Glen et al., 1999). Myrothamnus flabellifolia can dehydrate its vegetative tissue, in particular its leaves, to an air-dry state. In this state, the leaves and stem segments curl and change colour from green to dullbrown (Farrant et al., 1999; Glen et al., 1999). When water is provided to the roots the plant re-hydrates its desiccated tissue and returns to its original colour and shape (Glen et al., 1999; Farrant et al., 2003). Since the last review on M. flabellifolia was written many years ago (Puff, 1978a) and since considerable work has been published in the last decade, this review focuses on recent advances in the understanding of the physiology, biochemistry and chemistry of M. flabellifolia.