New Tropical Mistletoe Discovered

New Tropical Mistletoe Discovered

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The UN’s International Year of Biodiversity drew out some weird, wonderful and stunning discoveries. Among them was a new type of mistletoe. Get ready for much more kissing!

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European Mistletoe

Called Wild Mozambican Mistletoe, this parasitic, tropical mistletoe was first discovered near the summit of Mount Mabu in northern Mozambique, a region which hit the headlines in 2008 when a Kew-led expedition uncovered this lost world bursting with biodiversity. Since then, the team at Kew have worked tirelessly sorting through the hundreds of specimens they collected, and studying the new wild mistletoe (Helixanthera schizocalyx).

It was spotted by the expedition’s renowned East African butterfly specialist, Colin Congdon, while the team were trekking up the mountain, on a path that took them from the moist montane forest up to where the broad granite peaks break through the dense foliage. Colin quickly realised this species was different from anything he had seen on the mountains in neighbouring Malawi and Tanzania, and on closer inspection back at Kew it was confirmed a new species.

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The new, tropical mistletoe.

Tropical mistletoes, from the family Loranthaceae, are a great example of biodiversity and the symbiotic relationship between plants and animals. Birds play a vital role in both pollinating these mistletoes, and also distributing the seeds. As birds eat the small fleshy white sweet fruits, the seeds are then wiped on a branch to which they adhere. Once germinated the root grows into the living tissue of the tree to obtain the new plant’s nutrients. Tropical mistletoes are also popular with butterflies and in particular the blue group Lycaenidae. These strong links between the plants, their host trees, and various birds and butterflies, shows the interconnected nature of forest species, and the need to conserve all elements in order to preserve the environment.

Professor Stephen Hopper, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew says, “Each year, botanists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, working in collaboration with local partners and scientists, continue to explore, document and study the world’s plant and fungal diversity, making astonishing new discoveries from microscopic fungi to canopy giants.

“This work has never been more relevant and pressing than in the current era of global climate change and unprecedented loss of biodiversity. Without a name, plants and fungi go unrecognised, their uses unexplored, their wonders unknown. Plants are at risk and extinction is a reality. However stories of discovery and rediscovery give us hope that species can cling on and their recovery is a very real possibility. Continuing support for botanical science is essential if plant based solutions to human challenges, such as climate change, are to be realised.”

 

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