Underground flowering: the discovery of a rare plant on the island of Borneo

On the tropical island of Borneo, in the heart of Southeast Asia, scientists have discovered an amazing plant capable of blooming and bearing fruit underground. It is a new species of palm, named Pinanga subterranea, which became the first known member of the palm family capable of producing flowers and fruits exclusively in underground conditions.

Description of the new species

Pinanga subterranea has long been known to locals on the island of Borneo for its beautiful bright red fruits, which are used as a delicacy. However, the plant remained unknown to scientists until relatively recently. In 1997, Dr. Paul Chai discovered the species on Sarawak Island, and 20 years later Agusti Randi found the fruit and remains of the plant in the forest floor, which had been crushed by animals and dug up by pigs.

Comparison with other palm species

There are up to 140 species of palm in the genus Pinanga, and the island of Borneo is the center of their diversity. So classifying the new species required careful study by Randy, who compared the Pinanga subterranea specimen with all known palm species on the island. This allowed the scientists to establish that the new species is indeed unique and different from other members of the palm family.

Unique discovery

The discovery of Pinanga subterranea has generated great interest among scientists. Dr. Benedict Koonheuser of the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) Kew noted that this is a truly unique discovery that allows scientists to better understand geoflora – the processes of flowering and fruiting of plants underground. Previously such phenomena were known only in some species of orchids.

The rarity of geocarpia and geoflora

Geocarpia and geoflora, the processes of fruiting and flowering of plants underground, are extremely rare in the plant world. Until now, only 171 plant species capable of producing fruits and flowers under such conditions have been known. One example is the peanut, whose fruit develops under the soil after flowering above ground. However, such adaptations have not been found in palm trees until now.

Questions that remain unanswered

The discovery of Pinanga subterranea raises many questions for scientists. How does the palm tree pollinate underground? How did the phenomenon evolve, and what other surprising discoveries in the palm world await us? Dr. William Baker, senior leader of the Tree of Life study at RBG Kew, notes that he has been studying palms for 30 years and is still amazed by their amazing diversity. The discovery of Pinanga subterranea opens up new horizons for understanding plant life and sparks the interest of scientists to continue research in this area.

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