The Plant that Cheats Death: Rose of Jericho / Resurrection Plant Care Guide

Imagine a plant that can survive without water for years, curling up into a ball and appearing lifeless, only to spring back to life with a splash of water. This isn’t a science fiction concept but a real-life marvel of nature. 

Meet Selaginella lepidophylla, the resurrection plant, or the Rose of Jericho. This extraordinary plant has not only adapted to thrive in some of the harshest conditions on Earth but also holds a rich history of cultural significance and practical use. 

From its role in demonstrating the concept of rebirth to Spanish missionaries to its use in modern-day prosperity rituals, the resurrection plant is a testament to the wonders of the natural world.

This plant truly embodies the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Classification & Habitat of Selaginella Lepidophylla

It belongs to the Selaginellaceae plant family, also known as the spikemosses. Despite its common name, the Rose of Jericho is not a rose but a desert-dwelling spikemoss.

The plant is known by various names, including the resurrection fern, the dinosaur plant, the false Rose of Jericho, the flower of stone, the stone flower, the resurrection moss, siempre viva, and doradilla.

This remarkable plant is native to the Chihuahuan desert’s arid regions, which span the United States and Mexico. It has adapted to thrive in this harsh environment, demonstrating an incredible resilience and survival strategy that sets it apart from most other plant species.

The resurrection plant’s natural habitat is characterized by extreme temperature fluctuations, scarce rainfall, and intense sunlight. These conditions have shaped the plant’s unique survival mechanisms, enabling it to withstand severe drought.

Unique Characteristics: How Resurrection Plants Work

This plant is a master of survival. When faced with drought, it doesn’t just endure; it transforms. 

The plant curls ¹ into a tight ball, appearing as nothing more than a dead tumbleweed. But don’t be fooled by its dormant state. The plant’s ingenious strategy is to conserve water and protect its vital structures from the harsh desert environment.

Selaginella lepidophylla plant

This state of dormancy allows the Rose of Jericho plant to survive without water for years (some sources state up to 7 years), losing up to 95% of its moisture content. When drought persists, the plant can even be carried by the wind, taking root in a new location and continuing its life cycle.

The resurrection plant performs its namesake miracle when the conditions become favorable again, with increased ground and air humidity or moisture exposure. It slowly unfurls, revealing a lush, green fern-like plant.

uncurling rose of jericho plant

One key player in this process is a crystallized sugar called trehalose. This sugar helps protect the plant’s cells from damage during drying.

In addition to trehalose, the plant also uses substances known as betaines. These compounds serve a similar function as trehalose, helping to protect the plant’s cells and proteins from damage caused by dehydration.

This transformation from a desiccated ball to a vibrant plant is a spectacle of nature. Its remarkable ability to survive and recover from extreme desiccation gives the resurrection plant its name.

rose of jericho plant being activated and turning green

But the plant’s uniqueness doesn’t stop at its ability to resurrect. It is also a spore-bearing plant, a trait that sets it apart from most desert flora. This, along with its other unique characteristics, makes the resurrection plant a fascinating subject of study.

Reproduction: The Life Cycle of Selaginella Lepidophylla

Unlike many plants, Selaginella lepidophylla doesn’t reproduce by seed. 

It is a spore-bearing plant, like several primitive plant groups such as ferns, horsetails, and club mosses. This reproduction method allows the plant to spread and colonize new areas, even in the challenging arid conditions of the desert.

It is important to note that the resurrection plant is not an aquatic or epiphytic plant despite its fern-like appearance when hydrated. It is a desert dweller, adapted to survive in some of the harshest conditions on Earth.

How to Use Rose of Jerico & Cultural Significance

group of rose of jericho plants

The Rose of Jericho is more than just a botanical marvel; it is a plant steeped in rich cultural history and significance. Its unique ability to “resurrect” from a seemingly lifeless state has made it a powerful symbol in various cultures.

Historically, Spanish missionaries utilized the plant to illustrate the concept of resurrection to indigenous people. Its transformation from a desiccated tumbleweed to a vibrant green plant served as a potent visual metaphor for the concept of being reborn.

In modern times, Selaginella lepidophylla has found a place in various traditional rituals, particularly those related to prosperity and money-drawing magic. Its symbolism of resurrection and renewal makes it a powerful tool in these practices.

Interestingly, it also holds a special place in Christian traditions. Many Christians revive their Rose of Jericho around Christmas and Easter as a symbolic decoration. 

The plant’s resurrection aligns with the themes of rebirth and renewal central to these holidays. The plant is often kept in a bowl of water during these periods, allowing it to open up and turn green in a beautiful display of life’s resilience.

In addition to its historical and cultural uses, it’s also valued for its potential medicinal properties. However, it is the symbolic significance and ritualistic importance that set it apart.

Practical Uses & Rituals: The Magic of the Resurrection Plant

spiritual rose of jericho plant

The plant has found its way into various practical uses and rituals.

The plant’s resurrection symbolism can revive any aspect of life, from finances to love. In some folk traditions, a ritual involving the Rose of Jericho, moon water, and magical talismans can be performed to draw prosperity.

The water used to revive the Rose of Jericho is believed to hold powerful magic. It is often used to increase wealth, anoint magical tools, and in spiritual baths and floor washes. 

Some even keep a resurrection plant in water by their front door, with a couple of coins added to the water to attract money into the home.

The plant’s care also involves a ritualistic element. It is important not to leave it in water for too long to prevent rot. Instead, a mister can provide the plant with moisture when its edges curl up and close.

Scientific Research & Studies

Recent research has delved into the unique biological mechanisms of Selaginella lepidophylla. Studies have explored how the plant survives extreme dehydration and what happens at the cellular level during its “resurrection”. 

These findings may affect crop development and food security in drought-prone regions.

Rose of Jericho Plant Care Guide

rose of jerico plant care guide

Now, let’s go over some key elements of the Rose of Jericho care so you can witness the magic of this plant for yourself.

Lighting Requirements for the Rose of Jericho

The Rose of Jericho has adapted to handle a wide range of light conditions. However, it prefers bright, indirect light for optimal growth and health.

Direct sunlight can be too intense for the plant, especially when fully hydrated and open. Too much sunlight can cause the leaves to scorch or dry out. On the other hand, very low light can lead to slow growth and less vigorous “resurrections” when the plant is rehydrated.

A north or east-facing windowsill is an ideal location for the Rose of Jericho. If you’re using artificial lighting, fluorescent lights or LED grow lights can provide the right intensity without the risk of overheating or scorching the plant.

Remember, it is a resilient plant that can tolerate less-than-ideal conditions. So, while it prefers bright, indirect light, it can still survive in lower light conditions.

Soil & How to Plant Rose of Jericho

soil rose of jericho plant

This plant thrives in sandy, well-draining soil. To replicate these conditions, use a substrate suitable for cacti or succulents, or create your own by combining potting mix with coarse sand or perlite. This ensures good drainage, which is crucial for the plant’s health.

When it comes to planting the Rose of Jericho, it has some unique requirements. 

When the plant is in its dried state, it can be simply placed on top of the soil. When watered, the plant will absorb the moisture and slowly unfurl, revealing its green, fern-like leaves.

Rose of Jericho Water Guidelines

Watering the Rose of Jericho is a unique process quite different from watering most other houseplants. 

Instead of watering it regularly with distilled or tap water, you rehydrate the plant by placing it in a water bowl. The plant will absorb the water and slowly unfurl, coming back to life in a process that can take several hours to a few days.

Once the plant has fully opened, remove it from the water and let it dry out. The plant will curl back up into a ball as it dries. This cycle of rehydration and drying can be repeated indefinitely.

It’s important to note that the resurrection plant should not be left in water for too long. Extended periods in water can lead to rot. Instead, aim to keep the plant in water for about a week, then let it dry out entirely before rehydrating.

Temperature & Humidity Requirements

rose of jericho plant planted

Being a desert plant, the Rose of Jericho is adapted to withstand a range of temperatures. However, it prefers warm conditions at average room temperatures and can tolerate up to 85°F (29°C). 

It is not frost-tolerant, so if you live in a colder climate, it’s best to keep the plant indoors during winter.

As for humidity, it can tolerate extremely dry air but prefers higher humidity levels when in its hydrated state. 

If your home is particularly dry, you can increase the humidity around the plant by placing it on a tray of watered pebbles or using a humidifier.

Fertilizer Requirements

The Rose of Jericho is a hardy plant that doesn’t require a lot of fertilization. In fact, too much fertilizer can harm the plant. 

If you fertilize, do so sparingly and use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer diluted to half the recommended strength.

Fertilize the plant only when it’s fully hydrated and open. Avoid fertilizing when the plant is in its dormant, curled-up state.

It doesn’t need many nutrients to survive. Instead, focus on providing the right light, water, and temperature conditions to keep your indoor plant healthy.

Propagation of the Rose of Jericho

The Rose of Jericho propagates through spores, similar to ferns. However, this process is quite complex and challenging in a home setting. In nature, the plant releases its spores into the wind, where it can travel to new locations and grow into new plants.

It’s easier to propagate the Rose of Jericho in a home setting by dividing the plant. 

When the plant is fully hydrated and open, you can carefully separate a portion of the plant and place it in a new location. This new plant will then continue the cycle of drying and rehydrating, just like the parent plant.

Position the cutting on a bed of loose soil or gravel to initiate growth and provide water. Within a few days, you will typically observe the plant starting to sprout. 

Once the new plant has emerged, you can care for it in the same way as the parent plant. This involves placing it on a shallow tray or bowl filled with water and gravel or planting it in well-drained potting soil.

The Rose of Jericho propagates through spores. This process is quite complex and challenging in a home setting. In nature, the plant releases its spores into the wind, where it can travel to new locations and grow into new plants.

It is easier to propagate the Rose of Jericho in a home setting by dividing the plant. 

When the plant is fully hydrated and open, you can carefully separate a portion of the plant and place it in a new location. This new plant will then continue the cycle of drying and rehydrating, just like the parent plant.

Position the cutting on a bed of loose soil or gravel to initiate growth and provide water. Within a few days, you will typically observe the plant starting to sprout. 

Once the new plant has emerged, care for it in the same way as the parent plant. This involves placing it on a shallow tray or bowl filled with water and gravel or planting it on well-draining potting soil.

Pruning the Rose of Jericho: Maintaining Health & Shape

closeup of resurrection plant leaves

Pruning is essential to caring for the rose of Jericho to ensure its health, shape, and overall appearance. 

While this unique desert plant doesn’t require extensive pruning, occasional trimming can help maintain its vitality and promote desirable growth.

Here are some key considerations and tips for pruning:

  1. Timing: The best time to prune the Rose of Jericho is during its active growth phase, typically in spring and summer. Avoid pruning during the dormant period when the plant is in its curled-up, desiccated state.
  2. Removing Dead or Damaged Parts: Inspect regularly and remove any dead or damaged parts. This includes dried-out fronds or brown sections. Use clean and sharp pruning shears or scissors to make clean cuts just above the base of the affected area.
  3. Shaping and Controlling Size: If you wish to control the size or shape, you can lightly trim or prune the plant. Start by removing excessively long or straggly fronds to maintain a more compact and tidy appearance. Avoid cutting too close to the plant’s base, as this can damage its vital structures.
  4. Rehydrating After Pruning: It is essential to rehydrate the plant properly after pruning. Place it in a bowl of water deep enough to cover it, allowing it to absorb moisture and ‘resurrect’ from its dormant state. Once the plant has reopened and turned green, remove it from the water and place it on moist soil to prevent over-saturation and potential rot.
  5. Pruning Frequency: The Rose of Jericho generally requires minimal pruning. It is best to focus on removing dead or damaged parts and occasional shaping rather than heavy pruning. The plant’s natural growth pattern and ability to survive in extreme conditions often result in a self-regulating growth habit.

Common Issues, Potential Pests & Diseases

The Rose of Jericho is a hardy plant not particularly prone to pests or diseases. However, like any plant, specific issues can still affect it if not cared for properly.

Overwatering is the most common problem for the Rose of Jericho. This plant is adapted to survive in dry desert conditions, and too much water can lead to root rot. To prevent this, let the plant dry out completely between waterings and avoid leaving it in standing water for too long.

Root rot can also occur if the plant is left in water for too long. To prevent this, misting the plant with water rather than leaving it submerged is recommended. Regularly changing the water and allowing the plant to dry out between waterings can also help maintain its health.

Pests are less of a concern for this plant. However, it can still be affected by common houseplant pests like spider mites and mealybugs. 

If you notice any signs of pests, isolate the plant from any others to prevent the pests from spreading. Treat the plant with a mild insecticidal soap or neem oil.

Flower / Blooming Guidelines for the Rose of Jericho

Does the Rose of Jericho flower?

The Rose of Jericho is said flower in certain conditions. It produces small white flowers only when fully hydrated and rooted adequately in soil.

The process of the plant opening up from its dormant, curled-up state when exposed to water is considered to be its unique ‘blooming’ spectacle

To get a Rose of Jericho to open up, you must provide it with water. Place the plant in a bowl of water, and it will begin to open up within a few hours. The complete opening process can take up to 48 hours, depending on the size of the plant and the amount of water provided.

The Rose of Jericho can open and close many times throughout its life. It will reopen each time it is exposed to water after a dry period. 

If the plant is not opening fully, it may be due to insufficient water or a need for more time. If the plant remains partially closed despite adequate hydration, it could be a sign of stress or damage.

As for the scent of the Rose of Jericho, the plant and its little white flowers generally have a mild, earthy scent when hydrated. However, if the plant begins to smell bad, it could be a sign of overwatering or rot.

Frequently Asked Questions About Resurrection Plant Care

Is Rose of Jericho toxic to cats?

There are two plants commonly called the Rose of Jericho, each with different implications for cats. The “true” Rose of Jericho, known as Anastatica heirochuntica, is non-toxic to cats. However, the “false” Rose of Jericho, or Selaginella lepidophylla, is toxic to cats. If ingested, the “false” Rose of Jericho can cause gastrointestinal upset in cats, including vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. 

It is crucial to identify which type of Rose of Jericho you have in your home and keep the false variety out of reach of your cats.

What is a “true” or false Rose of Jerico?

The terms “true” and “false” Rose of Jericho refers to two different plant species that share similar characteristics but belong to other families.

The “true” Rose of Jericho, or Anastatica hierochuntica, belongs to the mustard family, Brassicaceae. It is native to the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. Like the “false” Rose of Jericho, it is a resurrection plant that can survive extreme dehydration.

The “false” Rose of Jericho, or Selaginella lepidophylla, is the plant we’ve been discussing. It is native to the Chihuahuan Desert in North America and belongs to the spikemoss family, Selaginellaceae. It shares the resurrection trait with the “true” Rose of Jericho, curling up during dry periods and opening up when exposed to water.

Both plants are often referred to as the Rose of Jericho due to their similar survival strategies.

What is a Rose of Jericho? 

The Rose of Jericho, scientifically known as Selaginella lepidophylla, is a desert plant known for its remarkable ability to survive extreme dehydration. It is also called the resurrection plant because it can come back to life from a dormant state when exposed to water.

How long can a Rose of Jericho go without water? 

The Rose of Jericho can survive without water for several years (some sources suggest 7 years, but there are no credible studies to confirm). It employs a unique survival strategy that dries up and rolls inwards, enabling it to withstand periods of severe drought.

How to propagate the Rose of Jericho? 

The Rose of Jericho propagates through spores, not seeds. When the conditions are right, the plant releases its spores, which can grow into new plants. You can divide the plant using the process described in this article.

How long does a Rose of Jericho live? 

The exact lifespan is not well-documented. Still, given its ability to survive without water for years and its spore-based reproduction, it can live for several decades.

Why is my Rose of Jericho brown? 

A brown Rose of Jericho is usually dormant and enters when there’s no water. Once rehydrated, it should slowly turn green again. If it remains brown despite watering, it may be due to overwatering, which can cause rot or dead.

Why is my Rose of Jericho moldy, and how do I treat it? 

Mold is often due to overwatering or poor ventilation. To treat it, remove the moldy parts, let the plant dry out completely, and rehydrate it. Ensure it’s not left in standing water for too long and in a well-ventilated area.

Why does Rose of Jericho smell bad? 

A foul smell is usually a sign of rot, often caused by overwatering. Let the plant dry out completely and ensure it’s not left in standing water for too long to prevent this issue.

How long does it take Rose of Jericho to open? 

It will begin to open within a few hours of exposure to water and can fully open within one to two days, depending on its size and the amount of water provided.

Why is the Rose of Jericho called the resurrection plant? 

The Rose of Jericho is called the resurrection plant due to its ability to “resurrect” from a seemingly lifeless, dried-up state to a vibrant green plant when exposed to water.

How big does a Rose of Jericho get? 

A fully hydrated plant can reach a diameter of up to 12 inches. It curls into a tight ball when dehydrated, typically 2 to 4 inches in diameter.

What are the organelles called in Rose of Jericho? 

The S. lepidophylla, like other plants, contains common plant cell organelles such as the nucleus, mitochondria, chloroplasts, endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi apparatus, and vacuoles.

How to activate the Rose of Jericho? 

To activate, place it in a bowl of water (Only use enough water to cover the gravel or pebbles.). It will begin to open within a few hours and should fully open within one to two days.

How can you tell if Rose of Jericho is still alive? 

You can tell if it is still alive by rehydrating it. If it’s alive, it will open and turn green within a few hours to a couple days.

Why do they call it the Rose of Jericho if it’s not a rose? 

The plant is called the Rose of Jericho due to its ability to bloom like a rose when exposed to water after a period of dormancy. Its transformation from a seemingly lifeless state to a vibrant green plant is reminiscent of a rose blooming, hence the name.

How long does it take for a Rose of Jericho to turn green? 

Once exposed to water, a Rose of Jericho turns green within a few hours and can fully regain its vibrant green color within 24 to 48 hours.

How does the Rose of Jericho get energy? Is it an autotroph or a heterotroph? 

The Rose of Jericho is an autotroph ², like other plants. It gets its energy through photosynthesis, which uses sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to produce glucose, providing it with energy.

What is the meaning behind the Rose of Jericho plant? 

The Rose of Jericho plant symbolizes resurrection and rebirth due to its ability to survive extreme dehydration and “come back to life” when exposed to water. This has led to its use in various cultural and religious rituals, where it’s seen as a symbol of renewal and prosperity.

Final Thoughts: One Tough, Magical Plant

rose of jericho plant spiritual setting

Selaginella lepidophylla, or the Rose of Jericho, is a remarkable plant adapted to survive in some of the harshest conditions on Earth. Its ability to withstand extreme desiccation and then “resurrect” when watered makes it a fascinating subject of study and a unique addition to any plant collection.

In addition to its scientific interest, the plant holds a rich history of cultural significance and use in various rituals. Its symbolism of resurrection and renewal has made it a powerful tool in prosperity and money-drawing magic.

Caring for the Rose of Jericho is a unique experience quite different from caring for many other houseplants. However, with the right conditions and a bit of patience, you can enjoy the fascinating process of watching this resurrection plant come back to life time and time again.

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.

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Stephanie is a horticulturist specializing in interior plants. While living in Germany, Stephanie worked at a hydroponic herb farm, assisting in the research lab that developed new ways of growing. She gained her horticultural certificate from the Royal Horticultural Society in the UK and wrote for a German gardening publication. Her interests are in medicinal herbs, community gardens, and eco-therapy. Linkedin