The science bit
Shrub or small tree up to 10m tall. Bark greyish and ridged, becoming fibrous when split. Leaves simple, leathery, up to 8cm long, borne in opposite pairs with short stalks; older leaves frequently become bright red before dropping. Flowers whitish-red: male flowers borne at outer part of collections of flowers (inflorescences); bisexual flowers generally borne at base. Fruits globular capsules opening from the underside to release seeds (dehiscing). Seeds have very small wings, spread by wind.
- The female reproductive parts of the flower resemble the tentacles of a jellyfish and also the snakes that form the hair of the monstrous Medusa of ancient Greek myth (hence the scientific name).
- The seeds are dispersed by wind, which is uncommon among plants on small oceanic islands as the seeds can be easily wasted by blowing into the sea.
Where it grows
This species is endemic to (ie only found on) Mahé Island, Seychelles. It thrives on exposed massive granite outcrops at 150–500m altitude; however, nowadays it is mainly confined to inaccessible sites at low and intermediate altitudes.
The jellyfish tree is currently one of the rarest plant species in the world. Its total population is fewer than 30 plants scattered over three hilltops on Mahé Island in the Seychelles. As such, it is listed as ‘endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.