A rediscovered “extinct” plant in Japan may be in threat of extinction once again

Fairy lantern plant (Image credit: Kenji Suetsugu)

A presumed extinct species of parasitic plants was rediscovered in Japan after 31 years, offering insights into how plants thrive on a warming planet. 

An extremely rare species of “fairy lantern” plant, Thismia kobensis, grows underground without photosynthesis and extends its translucent flowers above the soil to sprout. This type of fairy lantern plant was first documented in Kobe, Japan in 1992, but was presumed extinct after the discovery area was turned into a residential complex. 

Fairy lantern plants do not utilize photosynthesis in food production, rather, they use the nutrients from fungi entangled within their roots. This interaction with fungi and other plants make fairy lantern plants particularly sensitive to environmental disturbances. 

A little more than three decades later, the plant was documented again, this time around 30 kilometers away from Kobe, Japan. According to scientists, the rediscovery of the plant offers insights into its unique evolutionary history and adaptation to climate change. The rediscovery comes after years of continuous warming, making the climate of some of Japan’s forests lean more tropical. However, tropical rainforests, the plant species’ preferred environment, currently face global decline. 

The re-discovery of presumed extinct plants may offer insights into how global agriculture can better thrive in a rapidly changing environment. 


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