Japanese botanists have discovered a new species of plant that does not use photosynthesis on the subtropical island of Ishigaki in Okinawa.
The plant was discovered by a team led by Kenji Suetsugu at Kobe University who have been studying a kind of plant known as mycoheterotrophs. Unlike most plants, mycoheterotrophs do not generate energy from sunlight via photosynthesis but are instead parasites that feed on the underground roots of fungi.
Mycoheterotrophs are hard to find, as they are only visible above ground for brief periods of time when they are fruiting or in flower and are also quite small.
The new species, named Sciaphila sugimotoi, is related to the already-known mycoheterotrophic plant S. nana, but is distinguished by slightly different flowers. Where the flowers of the male S. nana plant each have three spherical nubs, those of S. sugimotoihave six.
S. sugimotoi grows to about 5 to 10 cm in height and has violet flowers roughly 2mm in diameter.