People have always sought for divine powers, hoping to improve our human limitations to the limitless state: superpowers, regeneration, immortality... The shortness of human life and all the living beings on the planet have been the biggest puzzle for scientists, and the main source of inspiration for religions worldwide since the beginning of the humankind. Among all the wonders and “superpowers” found in microbiology and macrobiology, one small living form stands out defying the strict rules of life and death as we know them. I am specifically talking about Ramonda Serbica, an endemic plant found only in Serbia, also known as the phoenix plant due to its ability to come back to life, after being completely dry for years.
Ramonda Serbica was first described in 1874, by a Serbian scientist Josif Pancic. However, the famous botanist didn’t know about its potential for revival at the time. It remains unclear who and when discovered its resurrection abilities, but the most well-known confirmation of them happened to one Russian botanist in 1928. Namely, he was tidying up his herbarium, and accidentally spilled a glass of water all over it. Leaving the wet papers and plants outside to dry for the night, he was surprised to find Ramonda Serbica alive and well the next day, after a year and a half of being completely dry in his collection. Officially, the phoenix plant takes 12 hours after being exposed to water to return to the normal living physiological state.
Ramonda Serbica is an endemic plant, meaning that in nature it can only be found in Serbia, specifically at the outskirts of the Mt. Rtanj and Mt. Suva near Nis. If you happen to go hiking on these two mountains, it’s very easy to spot it on the surrounding karst rocks, as its tender purple petals give a nice contrast to the shart, grey rocks. Theoretically, it can be found throughout the year. Even during the harsh autumn and winter months, you can see the dried phoenix plant, waiting for the power of water and sun to bring it back to life. But if you aim to catch their most beautiful flowering state, you should look for them from the second half of April to the first half of May.
This phenomenon is scientifically called anabiosis - an ability to return to the living state, after spending the harsh conditions in what appears to be death-state. Of 270.000 recorded flowering plants in the world, only about 30 have this ability, and only three can be found on the European continent. Pardon me for being a bit biased, but Ramonda Serbica may just be the most beautiful of them all.
Shortly after Pancic’s discovery of phoenix plant, a sibling plant was described with minor differences in the south of Serbia and named after the beautiful Serbian queen of that time - Ramonda Nathalie. For the untrained touristic eye, and amateurs in botany, it’s rather hard to tell the difference between the two plants just by looking at them, as the flowers look identical. However, Ramonda Nathalie has a bit further reach, as it was also noticed on the mountains in northern Macedonia and northern Greece. The exclusiveness of the phoenix plant secured its place as a national symbol. Many people symbolically tie this plant with the resurrection of the Serbian army in the First World War.
The story of the endemic plant surviving in the same region since before the ice age, and being able to come back to life after years of appearing completely dead, sounds a lot like a science fiction scenario. In fact, I could imagine a superhero movie, if only the main protagonist was changed from a plant to an animal or a human. But until we see something similar coming from the Marvel studios, we can enjoy the beauty of Ramonda Serbica, the wondrous phoenix plant, in real life and only in the wilderness of Serbia. Something tells me that it will keep surviving for a very long time.
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