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Palacký University
12-23-2015, 09:49, Age: 7 y.

Another New Plant from Borneo Discovered by Olomouc Scientists

By: Martina Šaradínová

A detail of the new plant, Thismia brunneomitra.

The plant kingdom has been enriched by a new species. It is the tiny Thismia brunneomitra, its flower reminiscent of a bishop’s mitre. This non-green and very inconspicuous plant was discovered by experts from the Faculty of Science at Palacký University during their expedition to a rainforest on Borneo this year. The information about this new addition was published in the scientific journal Phytotaxa.

Thismia brunneomitra is the second representative of the Thismia genus found by Olomouc experts on the island. In 2013 they discovered a plant which they named Thismia hexagona. The same botanist, Michal Sochor, was responsible for both discoveries. “He was looking for mushrooms, and stumbled across a plant that looked like a mushroom. He took a picture, on which we recognised another Thismia. Surprisingly enough, we were able to find the plant again a year later; we explored its root system, reminiscent of a bird’s nest. This year, we spent two weeks looking for it, crawling on our knees in the difficultly accessible terrain. Finally we managed to find about ten specimens,” said Martin Dančák from the Department of Ecology, describing the search.

Thismia brunneomitra is a mycoheterotrophic plant species, using symbiosis with fungal fibres. It is not easily noticed, blending with the fallen leaves. It is five to seven centimetres tall. “Young plants are black. The flower is brown, with blue stamens hidden inside. The inner structure of the flower is unparalleled, functioning as a one-way tunnel. The plants are pollinated by small flies that can go only one way: from the stigma to the stamens. This way allogamy is ensured, the transportation of pollen from one plant to another,” said Michal Hroneš from the Department of Botany, clarifying this previously unknown method of pollination.

After their return from the expedition, the plant was explored in detail for several months. “When you discover a new plant for the first time, you feel a great joy. The feeling is still there in further discoveries, but then it becomes a kind of routine, too. Borneo is a paradise for the discovery of new species. You must be fully aware of it, though, and have the necessary knowledge,” said Dančák. Then there is the pleasant duty of naming the news species. Once again Olomouc botanists found inspiration in the appearance of the plant. “The name is a combination of two words: Brunneus means brown in Greek, and the mitre is a hat of high-ranking clergy. Our plant resembles the mitre with its flower,” explained Hroneš. According to him, there are five dozen species of the Thismia genus in the rain forests over the whole world.

At present, the botanists and ecologists are examining and classifying other plants brought from Borneo. They believe that their samples will include more new species. The research in the tropical forests of Borneo has been conducted by Olomouc botanists along with their colleagues from the Institute of Botany at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and from Mendel University in Brno for several years. Their research is focussed on the study of diversity among the invertebrates and plants in various altitudes and different types of locations. Such discoveries of new plant and animal species are just “a nice side effect” of their activities.

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Last update: 19. 09. 2012, Vladimír Kubák