Researchers Discover Fungal-Plant Hybrid That Practices ‘Closed Marriage’

The plant species, discovered on the subtropical Japanese island of Kuroshima, derives its nutrition from host fungi.

AsianScientist (Oct. 26, 2016) – Researchers in Japan have discovered new species of plant on the subtropical Japanese island of Kuroshima that doesn’t photosythesize or bloom. The plant, named Gastrodia kuroshimensis, has been described in an article published in Phytotaxa.

Plants with these strange qualities, called mycoheterotrophic plants, have long attracted the curiosity of botanists and mycologists. However, a common feature of most mycoheterotrophic plants is their extreme scarcity and small size. In addition, most species are found in the dark understory of forests, only discoverable during the flowering and fruiting period when aboveground organs appear through the leaf litter. As such, researchers still have scant knowledge on the precise taxonomy of the mycoheterotrophic group.

Project Associate Professor Kenji Suetsugu from the Kobe University Graduate School of Science came across approximately one hundred individuals of an unfamiliar mycoheterotrophic species during his research trip in the lowland forests in Kuroshima in April of this year. After a detailed examination, Suetsugu, who is involved in documenting the distribution and classification of mycoheterotrophic plants in Japan, found that it was indeed a new species.

The description of a new flowering plant species in Japan is itself a very rare event as the flora of this region have been thoroughly investigated. In fact, G. kuroshimensis was a particularly special discovery because it is both completely mycoheterophic, deriving its nutrition not from photosynthesis but from host fungi, and completely cleistogamous—producing flowers that never bloom.

Cleistogamy, literally meaning ‘a closed marriage’, refers to plants that produce flowers in which self-fertilization occurs within closed buds. Til now, the evolution of complete cleistogamy remains somewhat of a mystery. The discovery of G. kuroshimensis provides a useful opportunity to further investigate the ecological significance, evolutionary history, and genetic mechanisms underlying the evolution of complete cleistogamy.

The article can be found at: Suetsugu (2016) Gastrodia Kuroshimensis (Orchidaceae: Epidendroideae: Gastrodieae), a New Mycoheterotrophic and Complete Cleistogamous Plant from Japan.


Source: Kobe University.
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