A mistletoe that grows near the summit of Mount Mabu in northern Mozambique is among the newly identified weird and wonderful plants highlighted this year by botanists at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England.


Helixanthera schizocalyx specimen, or wild Mozambican mistletoe. ((RBG Kew) )

The parasitic mistletoe was identified in 2010 in a region that made headlines two years before when a scientific expedition uncovered a little-known area bursting with biodiversity.

"This work has never been more relevant and pressing than in the current era of global climate change and unprecedented loss of biodiversity. Without a name, plants and fungi go unrecognized, their uses unexplored, their wonders unknown," director Stephen Hopper said in a release.

On average, about 2,000 new plant species are discovered every year.

East African butterfly specialist Colin Congdon spotted the wild mistletoe — Helixanthera schizocalyx — while the Kew team was trekking up the mountain, on a path that took them from the moist forest up to where granite peaks break through the dense foliage.

Botanists say tropical mistletoes are a great example of biodiversity and the symbiotic relationship between plants and animals.

Birds not only pollinate the plants, they also distribute the seeds. As they eat the small white sweet fruits, they wipe the seeds on branches.  Once the seeds germinate, their roots grow into the tree to tap its nutrients.

The Kew scientists also identified a glossy white-and-bright-orange orchid from Vietnam, and what one veteran Kew plant hunter calls "the rarest tree I have ever found."


Dendrobium daklakense, a glossy white-and-bright-orange orchid from Vietnam. ((Duong Toan/RBG Kew))

A local plant hunter found the orchid — since named Dendrobium daklakense — in a remote area in the Dak Lak province of southern Vietnam in 2009, and it was identified in 2010.

"Although undescribed orchids are still discovered regularly in the tropics, it is remarkable that such a distinct and showy species could have escaped detection until recently," orchid specialist André Schuiteman said in a release. 

"The next step is to determine its exact location so that we can assess its conservation status, though I suspect that it is endangered."

The rare tree, meanwhile — Magnistipula multinervia — was identified in Cameroon's lush rainforest.

While at 41 metres the tree towers above the canopy in Korup National Park, its rarity (with only four of the trees known), its height, and the fact that the flowers hardly ever fall to the ground, made it hard to identify and collect in flower.

In fact, botanists equipped with mountain-climbing gear repeatedly visited to the four known trees over a period of several years before they could find flowers and fruit to confirm their identity.