Guest Author - Alegra M. Bartzat
Selaginella lepidophylla is the scientific name for the plant more commonly known as Resurrection Plant, Rose of Jericho, or Siempre Viva (Everlasting).
Selaginella comes from "selago," the Latin name for a type of Juniper. It means "Little Juniper." Lepidophylla is Latin for scaly-leaved. So the scientific names means "scaly leaved little juniper." However, the Resurrection plant is not related to the Juniper; it only has a similar appearance.
The Resurrection Plant lives in a desert environment, from the Southwest United States Sonoran and Chihuahan Deserts into Mexico and Central America, all the way down to El Salvador. While this tropical and sub-tropical climate range shares many common species, the Resurrection Plant is unique among them because it is one of the only lycopods to live in the desert.
Lycopods are ancient plants, which have not evolved in millennia. Evidence of their existence, almost unchanged, can be dated back 400 million years. Lycopods have only roots, stems with scales, and strobili, which are structures that produce spores. In this way, they are similar to the other spore-producing plants moss and ferns. They do not have true leaves.
Resurrection Plants get their name form their evolved trait that allows them to cope with long periods of dry weather. When it rains, they grow large and lush very quickly, but when the air and earth become dry, the Resurrection Plant curls up into a tight ball, preserving a small amount of water in its center. In this form it can survive long seasons without water, and when the rains return they unfurl, seemingly coming back from the dead!
Because of this quirky characteristic, the Resurrection Plant is actually sold as novelty plant to tourists in the Southwestern USA and parts of Mexico and Central America as a gimmick. This strange trait does allow this plant that normally would thrive with water-loving plants to survive in the desert with cactus and other dry-loving plants.