So far as stories go this one’s got everything — a tropical island, dancing goats, kinky botanists (with sultry foreign accents for a bonus), an international rescue mission, all wrapped in absurd tale told by none other than Douglas Adams that’s so strange it simply must be true (and is) — and at the center of it all, a singular coffee plant on the ragged edge of extinction.
“The plant was standing by the side of the road, right by the traffic and in considerable danger because any plant in Rodrigues is considered fair game for firewood. So they put a fence round it to stop it from being cut down. Immediately they did this, however, people started thinking ‘Aha, this is a special plant,’ and they climbed over the fence and started to take off little branches and leaves and pieces of bark. Because the tree was obviously special, everybody wanted a piece of it and started to ascribe remarkable properties to it — it would cure hangovers and gonorrhea. …
“The first fence was soon rendered useless and a barbed wire fence was put around that. Then another barbed wire fence had to be put around the first barbed wire fence, and then a third barbed wire fence had to be put around the second till the whole compound covered a half acre. Then a guard was installed to watch the plant as well.”
Read the article, and listen to the NPR broadcast, of The Little Coffee Plant that Wouldn’t Die.
Good on you, Robert Krulwich.