Plant Cuttings

Plants to celebrate

Image: Marius Rossillon, 1898.
Image: Marius Rossillon, 1898.

At last, The International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University and a committee of scientists have chosen some plants as being amongst their top 10 listings of new species. For too long that annual list has been a veritable ‘plant desert’. Well, I’m pleased to note that the 2012 list makes up for that dearth, featuring as it does three (yes, 3!) ‘botanicals’. One: the Nepalese autumn poppy, Meconopsis autumnalis  found in the mountains of Nepal at 10,827–13,780 feet. Two: the night-blooming orchid from Papua New Guinea, whose flowers open around 10pm at night and close early the next morning; named Bulbophyllum nocturnum, it is believed to be the first night-blooming orchid recorded among the >25,000 known orchid species. Three: a fungus (but another ‘Melbourne Code’ organism, so an honorary plant), is Spongiforma squarepantsii from Sarawak (Malaysia). It would also be nice to claim the ‘walking cactus’ as one of ours, too. Sadly, despite its cactus-like appearance and scientific name – Diania cactiformis – it is a fossil that belongs/belonged to an extinct group – the armoured Lobopodia – which had wormlike bodies and multiple pairs of segmented legs that may indicate a common ancestry with arthropods. This fifth so-called ‘top 10’ was released on 23rd May (to coincide with the anniversary of the birth of Carolus Linnaeus), but also – and more fittingly – only a few days after the first international Fascination of Plants Day, 18th May 2012. Nominations for next year’s list can be made now at http://species.asu.edu/species-nomination. [Actually, Mr Cuttings is being a little naughty because my analysis of the previous four listings shows that plants have done rather well. OK, there were ‘only two fungi’ in 2011, but in 2010 we had both Nepenthes attenboroughii ‘Attenborough’s pitcher’ and Dioscorea orangeana, a yam with unusual multiply-lobed tubers (and another fungus…); in 2009 there were Tahina spectabilis, a palm that flowers itself to death, and Coffea charrieriana, a caffeine-free coffee species; and in 2008 Tecticornia bibenda, which looks like the Michelin Man – (and yet another fungus…). I think Mr Cuttings wants all of the top 10 to be plants or plant-related. Now, that even I wouldn’t argue with! – Ed.]

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