February 25, 2024

Balkan Travellers

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A rare species of fairy lantern flower is found in Japanese forests

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If you’ve never heard of the delicate plants known as fairy lanterns, you’re not alone: ​​They’re so rare that many species are considered extinct. But the news that Japanese researchers have rediscovered a species thought to be lost forever may spark a new interest in the tiny, colorful plants that appear to be lit from within.

writing In the journal Phytotaxa, the researchers report how they found evidence for this Thismia kobensisa species of fairy-lantern plant first discovered in Kobe, Japan, and still extant.

One specimen of the small plant was spotted in the town in 1992, but after the site was destroyed to make way for an industrial complex in 1999, the plant is believed to have been killed.

But in June 2021, a botanist discovered a fairy lantern on a nature trail in a forest north of the industrial facility, the researchers wrote. The search yielded three samples—enough for the researchers to analyze their flowers, collect DNA from a dry part of a plant, and describe the species more accurately.

The hairy flower has a clear, glossy bottom and a yellow-orange tube containing the stamens. Like others, it derives its energy not from the sun but from organic matter decomposing in the dirt. The organisms, known as saprophytic plants, are usually found in the tropics.

Researchers believe that the similarity between the Kobe flower and one that was spotted in a meadow near Chicago more than 100 years ago may indicate that the two are related. They speculate that migration across the land bridge between Asia and North America may explain the relationship.

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The discovery is a win for botanists, but the researchers warn that the plants remain endangered and threatened by foot traffic along the natural path.

Meanwhile, hunt Thismia americana, the fairy lantern last seen in 1916 Chicago, is still going. Some botanists are “confident they are still out there, thriving incognito in the remaining wilds,” According to the Chicago Field Museum. To learn more about the elusive plant, visit bit.ly/Thismia.