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  • This is a story of a plant, but not just any plant.

  • It is the story of a plant that long, long ago once ruled the world.

  • A plant that, today, is the very last of its kind.

  • It's this plant, behind me, Encephalartos woodii.

  • E. Woodii for short,

  • and I've been looking after it for over 20 years.

  • It was named for British botanist, John Medley Wood, who in 1895 discovered it growing on a hillside on the coast of South Africa.

  • A strange, handsome plant caught his eye, and he carefully removed a small portion of it,

  • and had it shipped all the way to London, to here, Kew Gardens, where it's been for the last 117 years.

  • But its history goes much, much further back.

  • You see, Encephalartos woodii, is what is known as a cycad,

  • and cycads have been around for 300 million years.

  • As the millennium rolled on, cycads flourished, providing shade for triceratops, a perch for pterodactyls, and a tasty snack for brontosauruses.

  • At one point during the Jurassic, cycads made up 20% of all the plants on Earth, and covered every corner of the globe.

  • But the good times couldn't last forever.

  • The dinosaurs went extinct.

  • Ice ages came and went.

  • New modern plants, like conifers and fruit trees started pushing cycads out.

  • And the once proud population of E. Woodiis were reduced, and reduced, and reduced

  • until there was possibly only one left.

  • One single solitary E. Woodii growing quietly on the hillside,

  • which brings us right back to John Medley Wood.

  • At the time, he had no way of knowing just how rare his discovery was;

  • but expedition after expedition in search of more E. Woodii have proved fruitless.

  • You see, cycads are dioecious, meaning, you need separate male and female plants to create a new one,

  • and this one happens to be a male, a true lonely bachelor.

  • If a female mate cannot be found, it really will be the last of its kind.

  • To this day, researchers are still looking.

  • After all, it's a big world, there might just be a chance.

  • In the meantime, it'll have me to keep him company.

This is a story of a plant, but not just any plant.

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