Back in 1980, a school teacher on the island of Rodrigues sent his students out to look for plants. One of the students brought back a cutting of a shrub that astounded the botanical community. Ramosmania rodriguesii, more commonly known as café marron, was up until that point, only known from one botanical description dating back to the 1800's. The shrub, which is a member of the coffee family, was thought to have been extinct due to pressures brought about during the colonization of the island (goats, invasive species, etc.). What the boy brought back was indeed a specimen of café marron but the individual he found was the only remaining plant on the island.
Cuttings were taken and sent to Kew where clones were produced from the living tissue. The clones grew and flourished. They even flowered on a regular basis. For a moment it looked like this plant had been brought back from the brink! Unfortunately, café marron will not self pollinate. Since all the living individuals were clones, no viable seeds were ever produced. That is until the famous Carlos Magdalena (the man who saved the rarest water lily from extinction http://on.fb.me/15WRqIs) got his hands on the plants. He was able to bypass the plants anti-selfing mechanism and produce a small amount of viable seed. The interesting thing was that when these seeds were germinated, the resulting offspring, pictured here on the right, looked nothing like the adult plants! The leaves were brownish and lance shaped while the adult plant has round, green leaves. This was a puzzle and for a bit, researchers were not convinced that this was right. Interestingly enough, the immature stage of this shrub was not known to science. As the plants matured they eventually morphed into the adult form that you see pictured here on the left.
Why go through such drastically different life stages? The answer has to do with café marron's natural predators, a species of giant tortoise. The tortoise are attracted to bright green leaves and by growing dull, brown, skinny leaves while it is still at biting height, the plant makes itself almost invisible to the tortoise. It is not until the plant is out of the range of the tortoise that it morphs into it's adult form.
Photo Credit: All images were taken from