Researchers have just discovered a new plant species that doesn’t use photosynthesis. While other non-photosynthetic plants have been found previously, this plant is odd in that it also doesn’t bloom. The findings were just published in the journal Phytotaxa.
Mycoheterotrophic plants don’t use photosynthesis to derive nutrition. The non-photosynthetic plants, which can survive in total darkness, instead form a partnership with mycorrhizal fungi. The fungi live in the plant’s roots and produce nutrients. It’s difficult to study mycoheterotrophic plants. They’re small, rare, and often hidden underground or under leaf litter. The plants are usually only noticeable when they’re flowering.
Kenji Suetsugu studies mycoheterotrophic plants in Japan. During a recent expedition, he collected specimens from a forest in Kuroshima. Further examination of the plants confirmed his suspicions—he had discovered a new species. The new plant, named Gastrodia kuroshimensis, looks similar to existing species. G. kuroshimensis has a trait that sets it apart, however. The plant is cleistogamous, meaning it flowers but the flowers never open to bloom. Instead, the plant reproduces by self-fertilization within non-opening flower buds. Most cleistogamous flowers rely on multiple reproduction strategies but G. kuroshimensis is exclusively self-pollinating. Researchers are unsure how this trait evolved and G. kuroshimensis is especially unusual since it’s also non-photosynthetic. Suetsugu intends to continue studying this strange plant.
The discovery of a brand new mycoheterotrophic plant species in Japan was unexpected. The plant, G. kuroshimensis, is also cleistogamous and therefore never blooms. Researchers believe that studying this new species could provide insights into the evolution of these traits. Most plants that utilize cleistogamy use it in combination with other reproductive strategies; G. kuroshimensis is exclusively cleistogamous. Scientists don’t know why G. kuroshimensis evolved this way but further research may help them piece together the puzzle. The discovery of such a unique plant species may help researchers develop an overall better understanding of plant ecology and evolution.
Kenji Suetsugu. Gastrodia kuroshimensis (Orchidaceae), a new mycoheterotrophic and complete cleistogamous plant from Japan. Phytotaxa (2016).