On Sunday, December 14th, there was an exceptional event in Marimurtra: the fertilization of the two female cones of Encephalartos natalensis. The history of cicadas goes back more than 200 million years, they are prehistoric plants and in fact, they coexisted with dinosaurs. Specifically, the species Encephalartos natalensis belongs to the Zamiaceae family and forms a fundamental part of the garden’s botanical collection. The vast majority of leafhoppers are seriously threatened in their natural habitats, adding a crucial component to the importance of this event, for its significance in terms of plant conservation.
The specimen of Encephalartos natalensis from Marimurtra is female and has produced two cones, the reproductive structures of these prehistoric gymnosperms. One of the cones has been fertilized with Encephalartos longifolius pollen, thanks to the collaboration of cicada expert Simon Lavaud from France. Simultaneously, the other cone has been fertilized with pollen from Encephalartos horridus, a species belonging to the Marimurtra Botanical Garden.
The pollination technique, carried out dry without the use of water, closely emulates natural conditions. Using an air bulb, the precise introduction of pollen into the cones has been achieved, a practice that mimics how this fertilization would happen in the wild, thanks to the role of insects.
The prospect of developing two hybrids from this fertilization is exciting, although it will take almost a year and a half to determine the success of this initiative. The scales of the cones close after allowing pollination, protecting the ovules inside as they mature into seeds. In approximately 6 months, they will have done so and will be collected. Another six to eight months of waiting will still be required before they can be sown and their viability checked, anticipating a promising spring of 2025 to know the fate of these unique hybrids.