Making a wave through the botany community is the news of an unusual nettle species discovered recently in China. What makes this discovery so intriguing is where the nettles have been found – in a cave.
As a new realm of investigation, botanists have turned to the exploration of caves for various plant life. In addition to the discovery of the Pilea cavernicola, the new species of nettle, scientists are logging quite a few other new species of plants found only in caves. (1)
The discovery of the pink blooming nettle shocked botanists. In fact, according to Mother Nature Network (MNN) (2), when London’s Natural History Museum Botanist Alex Monro first heard of the blooming nettles in a cave, he felt it was a mistake. He assumed that it was an error in translation from English to Chinese and that his Chinese colleague had misunderstood what he was saying.
It wasn’t until Monro was taken to the Yangzi cave and shown the plants that he believed such nettles existed.
In fact, these prized nettles are only found in one other cave in the Chinese province of Guangxi. (3)
The limestone deposits in gorge outcroppings and mountain caves are the ideal medium for these plants. Monro compared the scene in the cave to that of looking upon a moonscape that had splotches of pink flowers. What makes this species so rare and unique is that it grows in places it shouldn’t. The amount of light in these caves is only 0.04 percent of sunlight. (4)
Nettle Species and Limestone Deposits
The Pilea species, Pilea guizhouensis, was discovered in the petaloid travertines at Malinghe Gorge. (5) According to Nature & Planet, petaloid travertine “is a form of limestone that was deposited by mineral springs, which later formed large petals of rocks. In the Malinghe Gorge, these rock formations grow along the vertical incline of the gorge walls. (6)
The other nettle discovered by the team was named Pilea shizongensis. Its distinguishing pink flowers are a deep hue and were found growing along the floor of the Feng Huang Gu Gorge. While this new species is unique, the genus Pilea has over 700 known species. (6)
The Pilea is an herbaceous (herb) plant that is part of the Urticacease (Nettle) family and are mostly succulents (pulpy and juicy). The plant has jagged leaves that are covered with multiple stinging hairs. (7)
British and Chinese Botanist Project
The discovery came about quite innocently as the British and Chinese Botantists were collecting various nettle plants over the course of a few years.
In fact, this find and two others of nettles found in deep gorges in the Chinese province, are the subject of a paper the team recently published. (8) The paper was written by A.K. Monro, C.J. Chen and Y.G. Wei and can be found in the PhytoKeys journal, December 28, 2012. (9)
The three plants are listed as Pilea cavernicola (Vulnerable), Pilea shizongensis (Endangered) and Pilea guizhouensis (Vulnerable). The paper describes how difficult it was to collect samples of the species found in the two gorges due to the terrain. They state this created a disadvantage in collecting more samples from the areas. (9)
Dedicated scientists are responsible for the discovery of new plant species every year as they venture into remote areas or overlooked terrains. The teaming-up of these botanists from two different countries allowed for the discovery of these three new species. Joint effort often inspires others to form similar international teams. It is through the efforts of such scientists that even plants previously believed to be extinct have been discovered growing in some of the most unlikely places.
References & Image Credits:
(2) Mother Nature Network
(4) Huffington Post
(5) EurekAlert Releases
(6) Nature and Planet
(8) Science Daily
(9) Pen Soft
(10) vijay_chennupati via photopin cc
(11) alex monro via photopin cc