Resurrecting from the Dead

By Mirielle Lopez-Guzman

Jun 4 2019

I remember coming across Selaginella lepidophylla while imaging herbarium specimens for the C.V. Starr Virtual Herbarium and thinking how strange it was to see balls of stems that did not resemble any plant that I had ever seen before, so I had to know more.


Selaginella lepidophylla is a remarkable species known as a “resurrection plant” because of its ability to withstand dry climate conditions only to come "back to life.” Other common names for this species are the Flower of Stone or the False Rose of Jericho, although it is actually a lycophyte, a plant similar to ferns, not a flower. This plant is native to the Chihuahuan Desert, which is located in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States and is the largest desert in North America. All plants need water to survive – species that can survive in deserts with periods of no rainfall require specific adaptations to survive.


This species can live for months without water by drying up and curling itself into a ball. This protects the plant from exposure to the large amounts of sunlight that are present in the desert. The plant turns brown and looks dead, but it is really in a dormant, or sleep-like state. When water is again introduced to the environment, the plant “wakes up” and uncurls itself. Its leaves turn green again and the plant is able to resume its normal functions!

A Closer Look

More about: Ferns


Lebkuecher, J. & W. Eckmeier (June 1993). Physiological benefits of stem curling for resurrection plants in the field. Ecology 74 (4): 1073-1080.