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So rare it's extinct

Nikki Ioakimedes | Photo: Tom Hood | October 19, 2011 | Style & Beauty Story Style

Deppea splendens (pictured above) went extinct in the wild in the 1980s, but rare-plant expert Annie Hayes, who’s famous among flora zealots for cultivating some of the most uncommon plants in the world, just started selling the species at Annie’s Annuals & Perennials, her Richmond nursery. She can offer it because she helped save it from total extinction—imagine The Orchid Thief starring upright botanists, not plant snatchers.

The California Academy of Sciences’ Dennis Breedlove first spotted the unknown member of the coffee family while trekking through a forested canyon in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico, in 1972. This patch of land, it turned out, was the only place on the planet where the species could be found. Breedlove returned to Chiapas years later to harvest seeds, and not a moment too soon—by the time he visited again in 1986, the site had been converted to farmland, and there wasn’t a Deppea splendens in sight.

Luckily, a colleague of Breedlove’s had distributed the seeds they’d collected to the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley, which kept the species alive by propagating more plants. Hayes got her hands on some seeds (of course), and the Deppea splendens she sells today for $24.95 are clones of those that sprouted from Breedlove’s seeds. “Whatever plant people can’t get is the variety they want the most,” she says.


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