Wednesday, August 17

‘Ghost’ Orchid Growing in the Dark Among New Plant Finds | Plants

A ghost orchid that grows in complete darkness, a tobacco plant that traps insects and an “explosive fireworks” flower are among the new species named by scientists last year. Species range from a voodoo lily from Cameroon to a rare dental fungus unearthed near London, UK.

A new ylang-ylang family tree is the first to be named in 2022 and is named after actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. He campaigned to revoke a logging concession that threatened the African tree, which features bright yellow flowers on its trunk.

The featured plants are among 205 new species named in 2021 by scientists at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and their collaborators around the world. All are vital parts of the planet’s biodiversity and some can provide food and medicine.

However, several are already extinct in the wild and many threatened by the destruction of forests, the expansion of palm oil plantations and mining. There are 400,000 named plant species and two in five are in danger of extinction. Scientists said it was a race against time to identify new plants before they disappeared forever.

In all, scientists around the world have named about 2,000 new plant species each year for at least a decade. “It is almost puzzling that we are still discovering so many,” said Dr. Martin Cheek of RBG Kew. “But now is our last chance to find unknown species, name them, and hopefully protect them before they become globally extinct.”

The new ghost orchid is one of 16 new orchids from remote and dense forests in Madagascar, it was named Didymoplexis stellar forest by Johan Hermans of Kew, which means “star of the forest” as it grows in complete darkness and has star-shaped flowers. It does not have leaves or chlorophyll for photosynthesis and obtains all its nutrients in symbiosis with underground fungi. The flower only cuts through the humus on the forest floor for a day to attract pollinators, which can be ants.

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Uvariopsis dicaprio, a tree in the ylang-ylang family found in the Ebo forest, Cameroon, named after Leonardo DiCaprio.
Uvariopsis dicaprio, a Ylang-ylang family tree found in the Ebo forest, Cameroon, named for Leonardo DiCaprio. Photograph: Lorna MacKinnon / RBG Kew

Three of the new orchids are already believed to be extinct in the wild due to the destruction of their forest homes, including an arboreal species that was likely eradicated due to demand for geranium oil used in aromatherapy. “Unfortunately, Madagascar’s many unique plants are threatened by deforestation and droughts, floods and fires caused by climate change,” Hermans said. “It really is a race against time.”

The unusual tobacco plant was among seven new species found near a truck stop in Western Australia and is covered in sticky glands that trap and kill insects, most likely as a defensive measure. “The arid parts of Australia, which include most of the continent, have been thought to be nearly barren, but in recent years these poorly studied areas have given rise to many new and unusual species,” said Professor Mark Chase of RBG Kew.

The tropics are places known for their biodiversity and a spectacular new species of primrose found in Borneo was named. Ardisia pyrotechnics because its shower of white flowers resembles the explosion of fireworks. However, it is already assessed as critically endangered, as only a few plants have been found in two locations and it is threatened by palm oil plantations.

“Who knows how many thousands of plant species will be revealed in the future that are likely to have become extinct due to palm oil plantations,” Cheek said. “It’s disgusting”.

Ardisia pyrotechnica.
Ardisia pyrotechnics. Photograph: Shuichiro Tagane / RBG Kew

The new pink voodoo lily has a 30cm tall flower spike and was found in a small corner of the vast Ebo forest of Cameroon. The tree named after Di Caprio was also found in the Ebo forest. But despite the cancellation of logging permits in August 2020 by the President of Cameroon, Uvariopsis dicaprio it remains critically endangered because its habitat remains unprotected from possible future logging.

The new mushroom was first found in the UK’s Great Windsor Park under a sweet chestnut in 2008, but was not named until now as DNA analysis of a set of species had to be completed together. It is one of a group of unusual fungi that form fungi with elongated teeth under their hats, rather than gills, and are becoming rarer due to nitrogen pollution from agriculture.

Another new species, a blueberry bush from the coffee family found in Borneo, took even longer to be scientifically named. It was first seen by scientists in a painting by the eminent botanical artist Marianne North, made in 1876 while on the Sarawak River.

A new species was discovered not in nature, but in the laboratory. The microscopic fungus was found lurking in a Vietnamese wild banana seed kept at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank in Sussex. banana fusarium, It has a coral color and a velvety texture, it is an “endophyte”, a fungus that lives inside a plant without causing any visible damage to it. Distinguishing them from pathogenic fungi is crucial to protecting plant health, the scientists said.

Other notable new species include a periwinkle from the Andean valleys in Bolivia, which has kiwi-like fruits that are edible when roasted and may also have medicinal properties, and five pretty primroses from the Cape of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that are threatened. by copper. mining.

“Many of our drugs come directly from plants or are inspired by compounds that come from plants,” Cheek said. “If we make species go extinct before we can even see what chemicals are inside them, isn’t that crazy?”

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