December 5, 2023

Rediscovery of the Elusive Fairy Lantern: Thismia kobensis Emerges After 30 Years

The rediscovered species can be differentiated by its broad and brief ring as well as the many short hairs on its preconception (Fig. 2). Credit: Kenji Suetsugu (A-B). C-D: Pfeiffer, N.E. (1914) Morphology of Thismia americana. Plant species in Eastern Asia and North America having close relationships and disjunct circulations throughout these areas is not uncommon and can typically be attributed to migration through the Beringia land bridge. As the northern most types of Asian fairy lantern discovered so far, it likewise provides important insight into the biogeography and evolutionary history of fairy lanterns as a whole.

( A and C) Flower, lateral view. (B and D) Stigma lobe. Arrows show visible differences in between the two (a perianth tube mouth [A and C] and hair on each preconception lobe [B and D]. Scale bars: 5 mm (A and C) and 3 mm (B and D). Credit: Kenji Suetsugu (A– B), Tian-Chuan Hsu (C) and Tsung-Hsin Hsieh (D) The researchers supplied an upgraded description of Thismia kobensis to flesh out the original description that was based upon an incomplete museum specimen. Their close assessment highlighted how Thismia kobensis varies from the comparable types Thismia huangii. The rediscovered types can be distinguished by its brief and broad ring as well as the numerous brief hairs on its preconception (Fig. 2). Based upon their analysis of various attributes, the scientists figured out that Thismia kobensis is an unique species, with special qualities and evolutionary history.
The newly discovered place of Thismia kobensis makes it the northernmost known Asian fairy lantern species. This discovery may provide new insights into the methodical affinity and biogeography of the mystical fairy lantern, Thismia americana, which was initially believed to be related to some species in Australia and New Zealand. Thismia americana found over 100 years ago is the only North American fairy lantern types and was observed for a few years on a prairie near Chicago, however is now thought about extinct.
Photographed by Kenji Suetsugu (A-B). Credit: Kenji Suetsugu (A-B). C-D: Pfeiffer, N.E. (1914) Morphology of Thismia americana.
The presence of the mainly tropical genus Thismia in temperate North America remains a mystery, specifically given that the types considered to be its closest relative, Thismia rodwayi, is found in Australia and New Zealand. This unusual distribution pattern continues to puzzle botanists.
A comprehensive morphological investigation recommended that Thismia kobensis is indeed the closest relative of Thismia americana ( Fig. 3). Therefore, the similarity in external flower morphology in between Thismia americana and the Australia-New Zealand species may have evolved separately based on pollinator choices. This suggests that Thismia americana may in fact be unassociated to the Australia-New Zealand types.
The proposed variety growth mechanism of fairy lanterns in the present research study. Credit: Kenji Suetsugu.
On the other hand, the striking similarity in inner floral morphology, such as the lack of nectar glands in both species, recommends a more detailed relationship between Thismia americana and Thismia kobensis ( Fig. 3B & & D). Plant species in Eastern Asia and North America having close relationships and disjunct distributions across these areas is not unusual and can typically be credited to migration through the Beringia land bridge. The disjunct distribution of Thismia americana may be due to migration through Beringia (Fig. 4).
Overall, the rediscovery of the Thismia kobensis after three decades has actually significantly advanced our understanding of fairy lanterns. As the northern most species of Asian fairy lantern found up until now, it also offers crucial insight into the biogeography and evolutionary history of fairy lanterns as a whole. The paper likewise includes details on preservation steps to assist safeguard these unusual plants from human activities.
Recommendation: “Rediscovery of the most likely extinct fairy lantern Thismia kobensis (Thismiaceae) in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, with conversations on its taxonomy, evolutionary history, and conservation” by Kenji Suetsugu, Kohei Yamana and Hidehito Okada, 27 February 2023, Phytotaxa.DOI: 10.11646/ phytotaxa.585.2.2.
The study was funded by the Japan Science and Technology Agency.

As the moniker fairy lantern signifies, it looks like a small lantern that illuminates the dark forest flooring. Credit: Kenji Suetsugu
Green leaves and the ability to photosynthesize were when thought about trademarks of plants. These plants are known for their distinct look, evasive nature, and lack of photosynthesis.
They prosper underground, with their lively flowers emerging from the soil, sometimes providing the look of mushrooms. Around 90 types of Thismia have actually been found, but many are only known from their location of origin and some might have already gone extinct.
After more than 30 years, Professor Kenji Suetsugu and his colleagues report its rediscovery in Sanda City, located approximately 30 km away (Fig. 1). This unanticipated discover and subsequent examinations have shed new light on this remarkable genus and its evolutionary history.