Scientists Unearth New Smelly Plant Species


| LAST UPDATE 07/12/2023

By Stanley Wickens
Hydnora plant weird science
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In a riveting scientific breakthrough, researchers have uncovered two additional species of the peculiar and malodorous plant known as Hydnora. This discovery brings the tally of known species from eight to an impressive ten, marking a significant stride in our collective understanding of this intriguing botanical family.

Hydnora is not your run-of-the-mill plant. With its alien-like appearance and strange characteristics, it shares more similarities with an extraterrestrial being from a sci-fi flick than with the regular flora populating our earthly landscapes. These extraordinary plants, which are native to the untamed expanses of Africa and the Arabian peninsula, are adorned with a slew of unconventional features that distinctly set them apart from their conventional green counterparts. Unlike the majority of plants that rely on photosynthesis for sustenance, Hydnora lacks leaves. Instead, it adopts a parasitic lifestyle, sourcing its nutrients from the roots of other plants. The primary body of the Hydnora is a large, sprawling underground stem, bizarrely covered in "warts". For most of the year, this plant remains a hidden entity, lurking just beneath the surface, out of sight.

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Sepia Times / Contributor via Getty Images
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This extensive subterranean stem, while intriguing, is not without its perils. There was an alarming incident reported in Uganda, where a Hydnora plant nearly caused a building to collapse, thereby highlighting its potential to inflict structural damage. However, perhaps the most memorable characteristic of this unusual plant is its odor. Hydnora emits a stomach-turning smell akin to rotting meat and refuse, a scent strategically deployed to lure beetles and other insects for pollination purposes. So, what sparked the discovery of these two new species? A dedicated team from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London embarked on a comprehensive study of all the known Hydnora species. They meticulously sifted through scientific writings and examined preserved specimens, identifying key distinctions that had been previously overlooked. Their diligent research bore fruit, resulting in two new species from Ethiopia and Somalia being officially recognized and bestowed with their respective scientific names. One species emerged as entirely new (H. bolinii), while another was divided into two, having previously been lumped together with another species (H. solmsiana).

Sebastian Hatt, a representative from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, expressed his enthusiasm about this unique group of plants to Newsround: "They're one of the world's weirdest and most wonderful plants, and yet we know almost nothing about them." Bolstered by their recent findings, the team now plans to join forces with scientists from the countries where these plants originate to delve deeper into their mysteries and ensure their preservation. However, the intrigue doesn't end here. There's a palpable sense of optimism that even more plants like Hydnora can be studied, understood, and appreciated. As Sebastian enthusiastically added, "This is not the only weird plant out there, there are many more to be discovered." It's a tantalizing reminder that the vast realm of botany still holds countless secrets, eagerly awaiting their moment of revelation.

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