Jellyfish tree (Medusagyne oppositifolia)

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Jellyfish tree fact file

Jellyfish tree description

KingdomPlantae
PhylumTracheophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderTheales
FamilyMedusagynaceae
GenusMedusagyne (1)

The jellyfish tree was thought to be extinct until the 1970s, when a few trees were found, but the species still teeters on the brink of extinction. These small trees can reach up to 10 metres tall and have a dense, rounded crown of foliage (2). The bark is dark and has many distinctive, deep fissures (2). The leaves are shiny and leathery in appearance with a slightly scalloped edge; they turn bright red with age (2). The small, white flowers are difficult to see amongst the dense foliage; both male and bisexual flowers are carried on the drooping inflorescence (2). The flowers have numerous stamens and it is thought that these may have given rise to the name of Medusagyne after the 'Medusa' of Greek mythology who had a head of snakes (2). The fruits are green and rounded; the outer coat becomes reddish-brown with maturity and then dries, exposing the seeds within, which are then distributed by the wind (2).

Size
Leaf length: up to 8 cm (2)
Height: up to 10 m (2)
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Jellyfish tree biology

The jellyfish tree is the only species in its family and is therefore very unique (2).

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Jellyfish tree range

The jellyfish tree is only known from the island of Mahé within the Seychelles archipelago (2). The species was thought to be extinct since 1930 until 6 trees were 'rediscovered' in 1970 (2). Today, 4 populations and approximately 50 trees are known (3).

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Jellyfish tree habitat

Inhabits exposed granite slopes, at present all locations are within 2 km of the sea (2).

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Jellyfish tree status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered

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Jellyfish tree threats

The jellyfish tree presents a conundrum in that the seeds seem unable to germinate in the wild; no young plants have been observed in the natural stands (3). Successful cultivation in botanic gardens has occurred in very humid conditions, but high humidity is unlikely in the exposed habitat where these trees are found in the wild (3). It has been suggested that jellyfish trees have been lost from the more appropriate habitat of moist forests through competition with other species and climate change (3).

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Jellyfish tree conservation

Three of the existing populations of jellyfish tree on the island on Mahé (Bernica, Copolia and Mt. Jasmin) are protected within the Morne Seychellois National Park (3). Although seedlings have been grown in a number of botanic gardens, many problems remain and a conservation priority must be further research into the reproductive biology of this intriguing species before any effective Action Plan for its future can be devised (3).

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Authentication


Authenticated (6/5/03) by Justin Gerlach. Scientific Co-ordinator, The Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles.
http://islandbiodiversity.com

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Glossary

Inflorescence
The reproductive shoot of the plant, which bears flowers.
Stamens
The male reproductive organs of a flower, made up of an anther (the pollen-producing organ) and a filament (stalk).
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Wise, R. (1998) A Fragile Eden. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
  3. Gerlach, J. (1997) Seychelles Red Data Book. The Nature Protection Trust of the Seychelles, Seychelles.
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Image credit

Jellyfish tree flowers  
Jellyfish tree flowers

© Christopher Kaiser-Bunbury

Christopher Kaiser-Bunbury
c.kaiser-bunbury@biology.au.dk

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