December 29th, 2012 by James Ayre
Several new species of nettles have been discovered growing in the extreme low-light environment of caves in South West China. Nettles, also known as stinging nettles, are a very diverse and widespread group of plants that have many culinary and medicinal uses. Nettles have a rich history of use as a food source and are very high in nutrients and protein.
“South West China, Myanmar and Northern Vietnam contain one of the oldest exposed outcrops of limestone in the world. Within this area are thousands of caves and gorges. It is only recently that botanists have sought to explore the caves for plants. This exploration is yielding many new species new to science, that are known only from these habitats.”
Key botanist and nettle expert Alex Monro says, “When my Chinese colleague Wei Yi-Gang from the Guangxi Institute of Botany first mentioned cave-dwelling plants to me, I thought that he was mis-translating a Chinese word into English. When we stepped into our first cave, Yangzi cave, I was spell-bound. It had an eerie moonscape look to it and all I could see were clumps of plants in the nettle family growing in very dark condition.”
The nettles were discovered growing in truly extremely low light levels. Primarily, deep inside “the entrance caverns of the caves, sometimes, in as little as 0.04% full sunlight.” The authors of a new study on the discovery have been working for the past couple of years collecting specimens. So far, they’ve discovered 3 new species, 1 of which was growing directly in caves and the other 2 in very deep gorges.
“The cave-dwelling nettle species in question, was found growing in two caves in the Guangxi province of China. Of the species discovered in gorges, one is known from an unusual and striking rock mineral formation called petaloid travertine. Petaloid travertine is a form of limestone deposited by mineral springs that over time forms large petals of rock, in this case clinging to the vertical walls of a gorge.”
All of the plants are a part of a genus of Nettles called Pilea, which is currently estimated to contain more than 700 species throughout the world. Around one third of these are yet to be scientifically described.
The new finding was just published in the open access journal PhytoKeys.
Source: Pensoft Publishers
Image Credits: Alex Monro / CC-BY 3.0
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