Less than 10kms/6mi from my home in a deep, but well-known and easily accessible rainforest gorge, a new species of flower has been discovered.
Thismia megalongensis, a member of the Thismiaceæ (or Burmanniaceæ depending on which texts you read) family, is commonly known as the ‘Fairy Lantern’ flower – mostly found in the tropics – with the exception of a few temperate species found in Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Illinois in the US.
This is a very small gorge (about the size of a large city block) that is about ½ way down between the upper mountains and the Megalong Valley floor below, so it has a warmer climate than where I live, even though it is just a 15 minute drive away.
The pictures below show the rainforest environment: the trees are all native sassafras (Doryphora sassafras) and coachwood (Ceratopetalum apetalum) and in these sorts of wet, sheltered and ancient environments free from bush-fires, Eucalypts have never been able to get a foothold to out-compete the rainforest species.
These pictures are all courtesy of Google:
The full paper is available from this link, but a very brief summary, and pictures are below. All of these pictures and text below are courtesy of ‘Telopea’, University of Sydney, which is available at the hyperlink.
The flower that emerges from above the leaf litter is about the size of your little fingernail:
Detail of flower/fruit/seeds:
Detail of flower in situ and comparison with other known Fairy Lantern species from Bundanoon (Southern Highlands) and the Grose Valley on the other side of Blackheath (this is the valley that appears in all of the views from my house):
Thismia megalongensis is an ancient species that sprouted around the time of the dinosaurs. It has no real roots, but feeds off decaying leaf litter and fungus on the forest floor. It uses gnats and other insects to pollinate it, having evolved long before bees.
As pretty & unusual as this summer rain-forest flower is, it may not be what you want in your garden. Given that it has a symbiotic relationship with soil fungus, when it first appears it smells like stinky gym-shoes and then as the flower opens, rotting fish to attract its insect pollinators.
But, with so many plants and animals being wiped out each and every day, it’s always heartening when scientists discover something new, especially so close to a big city like Sydney, and even though this post wasn’t about my own garden, I hope you’ll allow me the diversion as it is forecast to be cold and wet all week, with temperatures no higher than 14°C/57°F.
Happy Gardening 🙂