Tasmania home to first alpine sword-sedge

Nov 15, 2013
This is a close-up of Lepidosperma monticola plant. Credit: Jeremy J. Bruhl

Researchers from the University of New England (Australia) and the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney (Australia), have discovered a high-altitude species of sedge from south-western Tasmania. A small clumping plant, Lepidosperma monticola grows on mountains including Mount Field and Mount Sprent. It is unique in the genus in being the only species essentially restricted to alpine vegetation. At less than seven centimetres tall, this Tasmanian endemic is also the smallest known species of Lepidosperma.

Mr George Plunkett and Prof. Jeremy Bruhl (University of New England), and Assoc. Prof. Karen Wilson (Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust, Sydney) described this new in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

Mr Plunkett, who is undertaking a PhD on Lepidosperma, first discovered the new species amongst herbarium specimens on loan to the N.C.W. Beadle Herbarium from the Tasmanian Herbarium. A field trip to Tasmania to collect additional material, observe the species in the wild and examine relevant collections at the Tasmanian Herbarium provided further evidence supporting the recognition of Lepidosperma monticola as a new species. Analysing the morphological and anatomical attributes of the plants demonstrated conclusively that L. monticola is a distinct species in need of formal recognition.

Species of the genus Lepidosperma, commonly known as sword-sedges, mostly have elongate, flattened leaves that are shaped like a double-edged sword. Many also possess sharp, cutting leaf margins, alluding to this common name. The genus with more than 100 species is widespread across Australia. It is of particular ecological interest because its fruits are removed by ants after falling. The authors are also working with colleagues from University of Sydney to investigate the taxonomic value of aromatic resins, which also appear to have therapeutic value.

This is Lepidosperma monticola at Mt Field National Park, Tasmania. Credit: Jeremy J. Bruhl

Most species of Lepidosperma occur in open forests, woodlands and heath, and some in swamps, but L. monticola is essentially restricted to alpine vegetation. All known populations of this new species occur above 700 m altitude. Individual plants are often inconspicuous, growing in the crevices of rock outcrops. Other individuals form attractive rounded clumps up to about 20 cm in diameter intermingled with mosses and lichens.

Lepidosperma monticola is somewhat similar to a previously named species, L. inops, which grows at lower elevations. The two species can be readily distinguished by traits such as fruit morphology. Ongoing work by the authors and collaborators is likely to uncover additional undescribed species of Lepidosperma.

Explore further: Simple plants aren't always easy: Revision of the liverwort Radula buccinifera complex

More information: PhytoKeys 28: 19. DOI: 10.3897/phytokeys.28.5592

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hotspot reveals new kangaroo paws

Oct 23, 2013

Two new species of kangaroo paw have been discovered in WA's biodiversity hotspot – the south-west of Australia – thanks to DNA sequencing.

DNA solves identities of Australian melons and loofah

Jul 27, 2011

Molecular data have shown that three Australian Cucurbitaceae species initially collected in 1856 but never accepted as separate species are distinct from each other and that one of them is the closest relati ...

Recommended for you

Danish museum discovers unique gift from Charles Darwin

Aug 29, 2014

The Natural History Museum of Denmark recently discovered a unique gift from one of the greatest-ever scientists. In 1854, Charles Darwin – father of the theory of evolution – sent a gift to his Danish ...

Top ten reptiles and amphibians benefitting from zoos

Aug 29, 2014

A frog that does not croak, the largest living lizard, and a tortoise that can live up to 100 years are just some of the species staving off extinction thanks to the help of zoos, according to a new report.

User comments : 0