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Cave-Dwelling Flowering Plant Discovered in China

Dec 31, 2012 02:57 AM EST

Botanists have discovered a new cave-dwelling flowering plant species (photo) in China that can thrive in low light levels.

A team of British and Chinese researchers found the new flowering plant with pinkish petals, belonging to the nettle family, in a cave in the Guangxi province of China.

"When my Chinese colleague Wei Yi-Gang from the Guangxi Institute of Botany first mentioned cave-dwelling plants to me, I thought that he was mis-translating a Chinese word into English," Kew botanist and nettle expert Alex Monro said in a statement.

"When we stepped into our first cave, Yangzi cave, I was spell-bound. It had an eerie moonscape look to it and all I could see were clumps of plants in the nettle family growing in very dark condition."

The cave-dwelling plant was dubbed Pilea cavernicola, since it is a member of nettle genus called Pilea. Although the plant species does not grow in a completely dark environment, it survives with levels of light as low as 0.04 percent of full sunlight.

Besides Pilea cavernicola, researchers also discovered two new species of nettle plants in gorges in the region. One plant (Pilea guizhouensis) was found in petaloid travertine formation in Malinghe Gorge and the other species (Pilea shizongensis) grows in Feng Huang Gu gorge, reports LiveScience.

Petaloid travertine is a form of limestone that was deposited by mineral springs. Over time, the limestone formed large petals of rock; in this case they cling to the vertical walls of a gorge.

According to a report in TGDaily, the new species has been classified as vulnerable in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of endangered species. 

More than 700 species of nettle plants are found worldwide, but one-third of them might be remaining without description.

The findings of the study appear in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

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