Plants go extinct, but sometimes species are rediscovered. This one after 151 years.

Mycoheterotrophs never fail to fascinate. With their rarity and weird shapes they really are the aliens of the plants world. Some species, like the mythical Thismia  americana,  almost reach a ‘Loch Ness monster’ status: seen a few times, a long time ago, and never again. Yet maybe, somewhere, it is still out there…

In 2013 I wrote:

“Since many mycoheterotrophic species, particularly those occurring in tropical rainforests, grow in inaccessible areas and are extremely difficult to spot, it is impossible to declare any mycoheterotrophic species as extinct with confidence. Even when the type locality is destroyed and a species has not been seen for many decades, it is still possible that other populations escaped discovery. Sometimes species have been rediscovered after a notably long hiatus. Haplothismia exannulata (Thismiaceae) was rediscovered at its type locality in India in 2000, 49 years after its discovery and only a few years after being declared “extinct” (Sasidharan and Sujanapal 2000). The second collection of Thismia clavigera (Thismiaceae) was made 115 years after the first and over 1,000 km from the type locality (Stone 1980)”

And this is exactly what happened with Thismia neptunis. Discovered in Borneo by Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari in 1866, and beautifully illustrated by him:

Screen Shot 2018-02-27 at 10.46.52

Thismia neptunis (from Beccari 1878)

This marvelous species was recently rediscovered by Czech botanist Michal Sochor and colleagues, in Sarawak, Borneo, probably near or at the same locality as it was seen for the first time, 151 years ago. These rediscoveries are always great news, and fuel hopes that other assumed-extinct species are still waiting to be found again.

Screen Shot 2018-02-27 at 10.20.43

Thismia neptunis (from Sochor et al. 2018)

The paper Sochor et al. Phytotaxa (2018) can be found here.

EDIT: The original collection year was wrongly stated as 1876. Thanks  for spotting this. 

Our field trip in Colombia: the vlogs!

A while ago, made these really nice vlogs about our field trip in Colombia. The videos didn’t pick up a lot of attention, but nevertheless I am happy that they are out. Now everyone who is interested can see and experience what is like to go on a field trip. Moreover, I hope the videos give an idea about why we go to these remote places, and how we search and sample mycoheterotrophic plants.

In the first video I try to explain our goals, and show the places we will visit in Colombia.

In the second video, it is time to enter the rain forest. We travel to the beautiful coastal forests of Chucheros, and almost immediately find what we are looking for: mycoheterotrophic plants!

In the third video you see how we sample the plants and we show that the work does not stop after returning to basecamp. Cleaning and sorting the samples may not be very adventurous, it is an essential step in the whole process.

After sampling in Chucheros, on the Pacific coast of Colombia, we travel to Letitia, along the Amazon river, and then to Capurgana, on the Caribbean coast. You get a flavour of these adventures in the fourth video.

Obviously, the sampling is just the very beginning of the project. After out return to the Netherlands we process the sampled in the lab. How is that done? Discover it in the fifth and last video!

At the time of writing the material and data collected during this trip is still being analysed, but if everything is going well we should get the first results out soon!