Plants cheat too: A new species of fungus-parasitizing orchid

November 3, 2016, Pensoft Publishers
Don't be cheated by the looks, this delicate and frail new species of orchid, parasitizes on fungus. Credit: Yamashita Hiroaki

Plants usually produce their own nutrients by using sun energy, but not all of them! A new 'cheater' species of orchid from Japan, lives off nutrients obtained via a special kind of symbiosis with fungi. The study was published in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

The new species, named Lecanorchis tabugawaensis, is by far not on its own in its strange feeding habits. The so called mycoheterotrophic plants are found among all plant species groups.

Mycoheterotrophy is a term derived from Greek to describe the bizarre symbiotic relationship between some plants and fungi, where the plant gets nutrients parasitizing upon fungi, rather than using photosynthesis.

Considered a kind of a cheating relationship, these plants are sometimes informally referred to as "mycorrhizal cheaters".

Having long attracted the curiosity of botanists and mycologists, a common feature of most mycoheterotrophic plants is their extreme scarcity and small size. In addition, most species are hiding in the dark understory of forests, only discoverable during the flowering and fruiting period when aboveground organs appear through the leaf litter.

Despite it seems like these 'cheating' plants have it all easy for themselves, in reality they a are highly dependent on the activities of both the fungi and the trees that sustain them. Such a strong dependency makes this fascinating plant group particularly sensitive to environmental destruction.

The new orchid species, Lecanorchis tabugawaensis, belongs to the curious group of mycoheterotrophic plants, parasitizing upon fungi, rather than using photosynthesis. Credit: Yamashita Hiroaki
"Due to the sensitivity of mycoheterotrophic plants it has long been suggested that their species richness provides a useful indicator of the overall floral diversity of forest habitats. A detailed record of the distribution of these vulnerable plants therefore provides crucial data for the conservation of primary forests." explains leading author Dr Kenji Suetsugu, Kobe University.

Just discovered, the new orchid species has been already assessed with an IUCN status - Critically Endangered. With a distribution restricted to only two locations along the Tabu and Onna Rivers, Yakushima Island, this -eating cheater might need some conservation attention.

Fascinating for biologists, "mycorrhizal cheaters" are, in fact, a challenge to find. Hiding in the dark understory of forests, they are only discoverable during the flowering and fruiting period when aboveground organs appear through the leaf litter. Credit: Yamashita Hiroaki

Explore further: Plant discovered that neither photosynthesizes nor blooms

More information: Kenji Suetsugu et al, Lecanorchis tabugawaensis (Orchidaceae, Vanilloideae), a new mycoheterotrophic plant from Yakushima Island, Japan, PhytoKeys (2016). DOI: 10.3897/phytokeys.73.10019

Related Stories

Plant discovered that neither photosynthesizes nor blooms

October 14, 2016

Project Associate Professor Kenji Suetsugu (Kobe University Graduate School of Science) has discovered a new species of plant on the subtropical Japanese island of Kuroshima (located off the southern coast of Kyushu in Kagoshima ...

New plant species discovered on Yakushima

February 19, 2016

Suetsugu Kenji, a Project Associate Professor at the Kobe University Graduate School of Science, has discovered a new species of plant on the subtropical Japanese island of Yakushima (located off the southern coast of Kyushu ...

Predicting plant-soil feedbacks from plant traits

August 26, 2016

In nature, plants cannot grow without soil biota like fungi and bacteria. Successful plants are able to harness positive, growth-promoting soil organisms, while avoiding the negative effects of others. Which plant traits ...

How plants make friends with fungi

October 13, 2016

Many fungi damage or even kill plants. But there are also plant-friendly fungi: Most land plants live in close community with arbuscular mycorrhiza fungi (AM fungi) that stimulate their growth. Researchers of the "Molecular ...

Recommended for you

Space-inspired speed breeding for crop improvement

November 16, 2018

Technology first used by NASA to grow plants extra-terrestrially is fast tracking improvements in a range of crops. Scientists at John Innes Centre and the University of Queensland have improved the technique, known as speed ...

Cells decide when to divide based on their internal clocks

November 16, 2018

Cells replicate by dividing, but scientists still don't know exactly how they decide when to split. Deciding the right time and the right size to divide is critical for cells – if something goes wrong it can have a big ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.