Weird Subterranean Plant Not Seen in 150 Years Re-Emerges From the Underworld

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Fungus-like organism might not look like a plant, but it is one. Sochor et al, 2018

In 1866, an Italian botanist named Odoardo Beccari was scouring through the jungles of Malaysia when he unearthed something truly alien-like: a plant, to be sure, but a plant with no leaves, no chlorophyll, and one that didn't perform photosynthesis and appeared to live underground. It looked more like a fungus or, perhaps more astutely, an insect or arachnid.

Beccari documented the discovery, filing away his illustrations and notes on the new species. And then, nothing. This weird, subterranean plant was never seen or heard from again.

That is, until just last year. Biologists from the Crop Research Institution in the Czech Republic happened to be exploring the exact same region of rainforest that Beccari had trudged through 151 years prior, when they spotted a bizarre flower poking through the leaf litter. They didn't know it right away, but they had just rediscovered Beccari's otherworldly plant. The picture above represents the first time the species has ever been photographed.

The plant, Thismia neptunis, lives almost its entire life underground, and feeds by parasitizing fungi. It only appears above soil when it flowers, although the bloom is hardly flower-like in appearance, and flowering is rare. Blooms only appear a few weeks at a time, and likely not even every year (which explains why these plants are so difficult to spot).

Despite its scarcity, scientists aren't sure if Thismia neptunis is actually endangered due to its obscure, underground lifestyle. Most of what scientists surmise about its biology comes from knowledge of its other better-studied relatives, but they will certainly require a larger sample size before too much can be posited.

The discovery was documented in the journal Phototaxa.