A Flower and a Way of Life in Peril (Sapiens)

Posted on by Brendan Borrell

Prized—and increasingly rare—bouquets of an enchanting flower from Brazil’s mountainous heartland pit collectors against conservationists.

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The 680-mile-long Serra do Espinhaço mountain range rises from the Brazilian lowlands like the fossilized backbone of a fallen dinosaur. Sandwiched between the Atlantic rainforest and the country’s savanna heartland, the meadows and scrubby forests that run along this rocky spine are home to tapirs, maned wolves, giant anteaters, and more than 4,000 species of plants.

One of the most alluring and valuable of these plants is a flower found nowhere else on Earth. It has a straw-like stem and a white head the size of a peanut. Lacking the gaudiness of a greenhouse rose or the steamy sensuality of an orchid, these flowers—individually—seem unremarkable. They achieve their beauty through multiplication, when dozens of them are dried and bound into a mesmerizing bouquet in the palette of an eternal autumn. Up to 10 years after their harvest, a drop of water will cause the delicate buds to close their petals. When they dry out again, they open as if they are still alive, which is why this species and its close relatives are called sempre-vivas, Portuguese for “everlasting” flowers.

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