Jellyfish tree (Medusagyne oppositifolia)

GenusMedusagyne (1)
SizeLeaf length: up to 8 cm (2)
Height: up to 10 m (2)

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

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).

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

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

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).

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).

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

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)