Fairy Lantern That Eats Fungi Rediscovered 30 Years After Extinction in Japan
The fairy lantern, a plant that consumes fungi, has been rediscovered in Japan 30 years after it went extinct.
One of the strangest creations in the plant world is the genus Thismia, also known as the fairy lantern. Thismia lacks both green leaves and photosynthesis, which are characteristics of most plants.
Plants belonging to the genus are mycoheterotrophic monocot plants, which means they eat fungi and are supported by trees, which in turn support fungi. There are about 90 species of Thismia that grow underground, their brilliant flowers shining through the soil.
The needs of each plant, however, are so particular that many of them can only be learned from the site of their original discovery, and occasionally even from a single plant.
The same applied to Thismia kobensis. In 1992, a single specimen was first uncovered in Kobe City, Japan. Its habitat was destroyed in this instance, as is all too frequently the case, by the development of an industrial complex.
Despite decades of research by scientists looking for another specimen, it was never found and was thought to be extinct.
30 Years After “Extinction”
After over three decades, Professor Kenji Suetsugu and his coworkers at Kobe University report that it has been rediscovery in Sanda City, a little under 20 miles from the original discovery.
It is incredibly exciting to find a member of an endangered and rare genus, and further research into T. kobensis has illuminated the genus and its natural history in new ways.
One Thismia species, Thismia americana, has a perplexing distribution pattern that has long baffled botanists; however, the recent discovery seems to provide some answers.
T. Americana, the sole species of fairy lantern known to exist in North America, was found in a prairie not far from Chicago more than a century ago.
The recently discovered T kobensis is actually T americana’s closest relative, according to PopSci.
According to the authors, thismia americana and the species found in Australia and New Zealand may have independently evolved based on pollinator preferences due to their similarity in outer floral morphology. This suggests that Thismia americana may not be related to the species found in Australia and New Zealand.
From the study, It is not unusual for plant species to have close relationships and disparate distributions in Eastern Asia and North America, and this is frequently attributed to migration throughout the Beringia land bridge. Therefore, migration through Beringia may be to blame for Thismia americana’s sporadic distribution.
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The second discovery of T. kobensis again after 30 years has greatly improved our knowledge of fairy lanterns and sheds light on the biogeography as well as the evolutionary history of the entire group of fairy lanterns.
But its discovery might also help with conservation efforts.
The discovery may provide scientists with material for fresh conservation initiatives.
Although Thismia species plants are small and unnoticeable, they have been called one of the most extraordinary and curious genera in the plant kingdom, and their peculiar look and ways of survival make the species exceptional among herbs, according to the study’s authors.
They clarify that logging has nearly completely “disturbed” the T. kobensis forest’s surroundings, but that the discovery could spur local efforts to secure official security for these forested areas, which is the same situation with other Thismia species, Treehugger reports.
The study by Suetsugu and several colleagues was recently published in the journal Phytotaxa.
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