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Remarkable new plant species steals nutrients from underground fungi

Remarkable new plant species steals nutrients from underground fungi
Thismia malayana A flowering plant A1 floral tube, inner surface A2 annulus and stamen filaments, view from inside B inflorescence with anthetic flower and several young fruits B1 style and stigma B2 annulus, top view C flower, side view D, E stamens, view from inside and from outside, E1 stamen supraconnectives: one pair of club-shaped inwards-pointing, one pair of acute outwards-pointing, and one central appendage F stamen supraconnectives, apical view G stamen tube, view from below H, H1 fruit after dehiscence, top view, H2 seeds I shoot base with roots. Credit: Siti-Munirah (A1–I) and Hardy-Adrian (A), CC-BY4.0

A distinctive plant that steals nutrients from underground fungi has been discovered as a new species by botanists from the Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM) in collaboration with local naturalists and stakeholders. The research is published in the journal PhytoKeys.

Discovered in the tropical rainforests of Peninsular Malaysia, Thismia malayana belongs to a group of plants known as mycoheterotrophs. Unlike most plants, mycoheterotrophs do not perform photosynthesis. Instead, they act as a parasite, stealing carbon resources from the fungi on their roots.

This adaptation takes advantage of the mycorrhizal symbiosis, which is usually a mutually beneficial relationship between colonizing fungi and a plant's root system.

By stealing nutrients from fungi, this newly discovered species thrives in the low-light conditions of dense forest understories where its highly specialized flowers are pollinated by fungus gnats and other .

  • Remarkable new plant species steals nutrients from underground fungi
    Thismia malayana live specimen. Credit: Mat Yunoh Siti-Munirah, CC-BY4.0
  • Remarkable new plant species steals nutrients from underground fungi
    Thismia malayana live specimen. Credit: Mat Yunoh Siti-Munirah, CC-BY4.0
  • Remarkable new plant species steals nutrients from underground fungi
    Thismia malayana with scales (the finest grade is 0.5 mm) A side view B top view C the size compared to the 20-sen coin (23.59 mm in diameter). Credit: Chin Hardy-Adrian, CC-BY4.0

The unusual plant is around 2 cm long and typically found hidden in leaf litter and growing near tree roots or old rotten logs. The research team identified Thismia malayana in two locations: the lowlands of Gunung Angsi Forest Reserve in Negeri Sembilan and the hilly dipterocarp forests of Gunung Benom in the Tengku Hassanal Wildlife Reserve, Pahang.

Despite its small size, Thismia malayana is very sensitive to and has been classified as Vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List criteria. Its limited distribution and the from trampling due to its proximity to hiking trails underscore the importance of continued conservation efforts.

More information: Mat Yunoh Siti-Munirah et al, Thismia malayana (Thismiaceae), a new mycoheterotrophic species from Peninsular Malaysia, PhytoKeys (2024). DOI: 10.3897/phytokeys.242.120967

Journal information: PhytoKeys

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Citation: Remarkable new plant species steals nutrients from underground fungi (2024, June 4) retrieved 19 July 2024 from https://phys.org/news/2024-06-remarkable-species-nutrients-underground-fungi.html
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