Resurrecting crops from the devastation of drought

 
 
 

Jill Farrant didn’t believe her eyes. This couldn’t be the same plant she’d seen the day before, lifeless and withering. She triple checked to be sure. No mistake: after rainfall the plant had come back to life. Farrant was nine at the time. Nobody believed her, but the moment inspired her to become an expert in resurrection plants. She’s had the last laugh.

While studying molecular and cell biology at UKZN, Farrant encountered the phenomenon she’d witnessed as a child at a scientific level and began to understand one of nature’s wonders. So named because they appear to die and revive, the resurrection plants that have become Farrant’s fascination are able to survive with minimal water. “If there is no rain, they simply dry down,” she explains. “They look dry, brittle, dead, yet when it rains, within 24 to 48 hours they are bright green and growing again.”

These plants are real survivors. Farrant believes that deepening our understanding of them could help to sustain our cities during periods of drought, such as the crisis the country faces at present. “My passion is to be able to produce crops in the future that we could grow under these water-limiting conditions,” she explains. “Harsh times bring out entrepreneurship and I’m hoping that that’s what we’re going to see in South Africa in the future.” We will get through this drought. And by the time the next arrives, Farrant’s research could ensure that we’re ready.