10 Plants Lost to History


Coffea lemblinii

coffee flowers
These coffee flowers are a beautiful stand-in for our extinct friend Coffea lemblinii, which hasn't been seen for more than 100 years. Marcelo Corrêa/CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikipedia

Here's a nightmare scenario for a lot of people: You get up in the morning, and you're out of coffee. The grocery store is out of coffee. Starbucks is out of coffee. The whole world, you come to find out, is out of coffee — it's gone extinct! Don't worry, we're not there yet, but scientists are starting to get a little worried. One study found that under current warming trends, as much as 99.7 percent of coffee-growing areas will be too hot to grow Arabica, the bean that fuels 70 percent of the world's java, by 2080 [sources: Siddle and Venema, CBC News].

For the sake of all our mornings, let's hope Arabica doesn't go the way of lemblinii, one of 40 Coffea species related to the popular bean [source: Koziell and Sanders]. French botanist Auguste Chevalier first described lemblinii in 1907, and it hasn't been seen since. The small bush, with white blossoms and peeling, papery bark, once grew in the forests of the Vallee de l'Agnieby region of the Ivory Coast. It grew up to 3.3 feet (1 meter) in height and flowered in January — at least the one Chevalier found did. While it's hard to know for sure, lemblinii is believed to be extinct; all that remains of the species is a single herbarium specimen [source: Poorter, Bongers, and Kouame].