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Amazing Discovery: Why This New Plant Species is Baffling Japanese Scientists

Oct 17, 2016 04:26 AM EDT
Gastrodia kuroshimensis
This is Gastrodia kuroshimensis discovered on Kuroshima.
(Photo : Kenji Suetsugu for Press Release Use/EurekAlert)

Researchers at Kobe University Graduate School of Science have discovered a baffling new species of plants in Japan that neither photosynthesize nor bloom.

What are Mycorrhizal Plants?

The discovery, described in a paper published in the journal Phytotaxa, is considered to be very rare. Non-photosynthetic mycorrhizal plants or mycoheterotrophic plants are known for its scarcity and small size, not to mention that most of them can only be found in dark, understory of forests and can only be seen during the flowering and fruiting period. Another amazing aspect of the new species is its flower that never blooms.

The new plant species, named Gastrodia kuroshimensis, was discovered by Kenji Suetsugu, project associate professor at Kobe University Graduate School of Science, during one of his research trips in a lowland forest located in the subtropical Japanese island of Kuroshima.

During his trip, Suetsugu collected specimens of approximately 100 individuals of unfamiliar mycoheterotrophic species. Detailed examination of the morphological characteristics of each plant was done in order to determine if the collected specimens belong to a new species.

A Plant that Produces Flowers but Never Blooms

After examining and analyzing each plant specimens, the researchers observed that one of the unfamiliar mycoheterotrophic species is indeed a new flowering plant species. Besides deriving its nutrition from host fungi, as opposed to the photosynthesis of most flowering plants, G. kuroshimensis is also cleistogamous, plants that produces flowers that never blooms.

Deeper Look in Cleistogamy

Cleistogamy has been baffling botanists even from the times of Darwin. Cleistogamy refers to plant in which self-fertilization occurs within close buds.

According to a press release, Cleistogamous flowers are considered a bet-hedging strategy, since they require less resources than chasmogamous (cross-pollinating) flowers, and because they can provide reproductive assurance by setting seeds in the absence of pollinators and under disadvantageous environmental conditions.

With the discovery of G. kuroshimensis, botanists and researchers could take a deeper look on the evolution complete cleistogamy, its ecological significance and genetic mechanisms.

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