Genuflecting plant discovered in Brazil

September 22, 2011

Red Orbit, 09/21/2011

A newly discovered plant species, appropriately named Spigelia genuflexa, displays a particular and rare characteristic that gives it its name. After fruits are formed, the fruiting branches “bend down,” depositing the capsules with seeds on the ground and sometimes burying them in the soft cover of moss. This ensures that the seeds end up as close to the mother plant as possible, facilitating its propagation the following season. Credit: Alex Popovkin

A new plant that buries its seeds, the first in its family, is discovered in the Atlantic forest of Bahia, Brazil, by an international team of scientists.

The new species, appropriately named Spigelia genuflexa, displays a particular and rare characteristic that gives it its name. After fruits are formed, the fruiting branches “bend down,” depositing the capsules with seeds on the ground and sometimes burying them in the soft cover of moss, a phenomenon called geocarpy. This ensures that the seeds end up as close to the mother plant as possible, facilitating its propagation the following season. A famous example of geocarpy—a rare adaptation to growing in harsh or ephemeral environments, is the well-known peanut from the legume family that buries its fruits in the ground.

The discovery of Spigelia genuflexa was published on Sept. 14, in the scientific journal PhytoKeys, in an open-access paper available for free.

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