Ancient Plant Wakes Up As Glacier Recedes

Calling it the Rip Van Winkle of the plant world, nature is providing awe-struck researchers with a live sample of a plant that has woken up after being dormant for 400 years.

Incredibly, while exploring Teardrop Glacier way north in the Canadian Arctic, researchers noticed something "green." And it was growing.

It turns out the plant is an ancient bryophyte that emerged when the ice receded and began growing again – after being dormant for 400 years!!!

Since the Little Ice Age, this plant has been covered by ice, which is now receding because of climate change. 

Ancient Plant Byrophtes

What’s amazing is that these plants precede the bryophyte we know on earth today. They do not have the vascular tissue necessary to pump fluids, Dr. Catherine La Farge, who found the plant, told BBC News.

Moss is a bryophyte, for example. "After 100 years, a moss may look perfectly natural and even retain it’s green color," explains Jonathan Shaw, who runs a bryology lab at Duke University, in an interview with PBS.

The other amazing thing, he says, is the ability for bryophytes to regenerate, but no one expected it would wait for 400 years.

As the world’s glaciers recede, more bryophytes will appear and repopulate the landscape the glaciers leave behind.

In fact, many plants are emerging from a long sleep under ice, such as cyanobacteria and green terrestrial algae, and some plants scientists have never seen before.  

"It’s like lifting a blanket," La Farge told PBS.

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