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Gastrodia kuroshimensis.

Kenji Suetsugu

This Newly Discovered Plant Has Flowers That Never Bloom

An unusual plant living on the Japanese island of Kuroshima has been described for the first time.

| 2 min read

An unusual plant living on the Japanese island of Kuroshima has been described for the first time.

A new plant species discovered on the subtropical Japanese island of Kuroshima has been named Gastrodia kuroshimensis, according to a paper published in the journal Phytotaxa.

But this is not your average plant. It belongs to a curious group of small, non-photosynthetic plants called mycorrhizae, which form a symbiotic relationship between their roots and fungi to obtain nutrients.

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Because most mycorrhizae are only visible during flowering and fruiting, when they begin to poke through the leaf litter on the forest floor, the taxonomy of this group of plants has remained largely unknown.

Kenji Suetsugu, an associate professor at Kobe University in Japan, was documenting mycorrhizal plants in Kuroshima when he came across approximately 100 members of a previously unknown species in the lowland forest.

After carrying out a detailed analysis of one of the specimens, Suetsugu concluded that this was in fact a new species.

Lack of photosynthesis was not the only unusual characteristic of the plant. As Suetsugu notes in his paper, the plant is also cleistogamous, meaning it produces flowers that “remain completely closed throughout the entire flowering period.”

Cleistogamous flowers self-pollinate within their closed buds, and while they typically also bare blooming flowers to allow for a “mixed pollination strategy,” the newly discovered species relies solely on self-pollination. This extremely rare strategy may allow G. kuroshimensis to “compensate for pollinator limitation due to their lack of nectar and pollinator-hostile habitat,” Suetsugu writes.

Discovering a new flowering plant in Japan is a rare occurrence, as the flora of the region have been extensively studied, according to a press release. And the fact that G. kuroshimensis is a plant that completely lacks photosynthesis and produces flowers that never bloom makes this unique discovery even more extraordinary.

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