Scientists in Japan have discovered an extremely rare species of parasitic “fairy lantern” that was thought to be extinct.
The mysterious plant, This is cobensis, belonging to a rarely seen genus of succulent fungus. The plants grow underground without photosynthesis but send translucent flowers to sprout like ghostly lanterns from the forest floor.
First documented in 1992 in Kobe, Japan, the plant was considered extinct when its habitat was destroyed by the construction of an industrial complex. Now, three decades later, on a forest trail about 19 miles (30 kilometers) from Kobe, scientists have rediscovered the rare plant’s waxy, fang-shaped petals. They described the discovery February 27 in the journal Phytotaxa.
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“This unexpected discovery and subsequent investigations shed new light on this remarkable genus and its evolutionary history,” the researchers write in a statement.
fairy lanterns (Seomia) are ethereal, subterranean plants that only briefly emerge from the earth in the form of complex waxy flowers. Without chlorophyll to photosynthesize energy, the plants instead use a process called micro-heterotrophy to steal the nutrients from the fungi that swarm around their roots.
Thismia’s preferred habitats, which are typically tropical rainforests, are in global decline. Little is known about the elusive plants, and a significant number of about 90 known species have been lost in the last few years, after their initial discovery.
“Because most non-heterotrophic plants obtain their carbon indirectly from photosynthetic plants through shared mycorrhizal (fungal and plant) networks, they are highly dependent on the activities of the fungi and the trees that feed them,” wrote the researchers in the study. “Therefore, they are very sensitive to environmental disturbances, which makes them rare and endangered.”
Rediscovery of T. kobensis it is the northernmost species of fairy lantern. After studying the other plant in the world, scientists discovered that its features, such as its distinct petals and lack of nectar glands, are closely related to the only North American fairy lantern, This is America.
The researchers think T. kobensis is a descendant T. Americawhich could cross from North America to East Asia over the Bering Land Bridge. T. America first found in Chicago in 1912 but not seen since 1916.