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Friday, May 25, 2018

Japan Just-Discovered Parasite Flower

According to the recently released 2018, 11th annual list of newly discovered global flora and fauna, compiled by the International Institute of Species Exploration, a part of the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Japan has a new flower.

The list of Top 10 species, is actually based on some 18,000 new species named in the year before.

If you are thinking "Holy cow! 18,000 species discovered in just one year - that's great!", consider also that we believe that about 20,000 species go extinct every year, too. 

The list, revealed on May 23 every year, is done so to honor the birth date of Swedish botanist Carolus Linneaus, born in 1707 and considered to be the father of modern taxonomy.

Taxonomy is the classification of all natural things, including organisms. 

The heterotrophic flower—Sciaphila sugimotoi—was actually discovered in October of 2016 by
Tatsuki Nishioka (surname first) of Kyoto University Faculty of Agriculture, near Mount Omoto on Ishigaki island, a part of the Okinawa chain of isles.

The flower lacks the cool name that makes it a public offering, and is still known by its scientific name Sciaphila sugimotoi.

It is named for for Sugimoto Takaomi (surname first), a collaborative partner with the Kyushu University, Graduate School of Bioresource and Bioenvironmental Sciences, who played an important role in the identification of the species by collecting specimens.

The rather pretty flower of the Sciaphila sugimotoi blooms in September and October, and lives in a symbiotic harmony with a fungus.

If you look at the very top and left image of the flower, you can see a top-down view of the plant growing out of a the ground, implying that just beneath the surface is a rich growth of fungus in the area.

Symbiosis is any type of a close and long-term biological interaction between two different biological organisms, be it mutualistic (working in harmony with each other - like those birds that pick food from crocodile teeth: the birds get a meal from the crocodile, and the crocodile gets its teeth cleaned - and no one is eating the other), commensalistic (where one organism obtains food or other benefits from the other without affecting it, such as a remora that attaches itself to a larger fish to gain food and locomotion), or parasitic (where one organism, the parasite, lives on or in another organism, the host, causing it some harm, and is adapted structurally to this way of life, such as lice that either eat hair and scalp or suck blood and use the host as a place to lay eggs).

In the case of the Sciaphila sugimotoi flower, it is a parasite, deriving nutrition from the roots of the fungus, without harming it.

Normally, plants will capture energy from the sun and grow via photosynthesis.

The plants have been found to grow between five to 10 centimeters (two to four inches) in height, have a wonderful violet colored flower that is about two millimeters (0.0787402 inches) in diameter.

There are about 50 of the plants discovered in two locations on Ishigaki Island. 

These plants, known as mycoheterotrophs that feed of spores and fungus, are only visible above ground during fruiting or, in the case of the Sciaphila sugimotoi, when flowering.

These types of flora are very difficult to discover and classify owing to their very short flowering periods—you kind of just have to to stumble upon them at that perfect moment in time.

So... in honor of a new flower discovered in Japan...

Andrew Joseph

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