Tropical mistletoe discovered

A new parasitic tropical mistletoe has been described just in time for Christmas. The mistletoe – discovered near the summit of Mount Mabu in Mozambique – has been named Helixanthera schizocalyx.

Dendrobium daklakense, just one of the new discoveries from scientists at Kew (Credit Duong Toan)

The tropical mistletoe – found on growing trees 1,650 above sea level – was spotted by team of scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. East African butterfly specialist Colin Congdon first spotted the hairless plant, realising it was different to other species he’d seen on mountains in neighbouring Malawi and Tanzania. On closer inspection back at Kew, it was confirmed a new species.

Helixanthera schizocalyx grows up to 50cm tall, and attaches itself directly to the branches of small trees. This wild mistletoe is found on the stunted trees at the upper edge of wet montane forest. It is pollinated by birds – who also spread their seeds by eating their fruit – and butterflies.

Other discoveries this year include: Dendrobium daklakense, a glossy white and orange orchid from Vietnam; Magnistipula multinervia, a gigantic canopy tree; and Solanum phoxocarpum, a medicinal wild aubergine from East Africa.

“On average, 2,000 new plant species are discovered each year, and Kew botanists, using our vast collection of over 8 million plant and fungal specimens, contribute to the description of approximately 10% of these new discoveries,” said Professor Stephen Hopper, director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, “Despite more than 250 years of naming living plants, applying each with a unique descriptive scientific name, we are still some decades away from finishing the task of a global inventory of plants.”

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