New Species of Fairy Lantern Found in Brazilian Rainforest

by johnsmith

Scientists have described a new species of the flowering plant genus Thismia from a forest in the Mantiqueira mountains in southeast Brazil.

Thismia mantiqueirensis, habit in litter, individuals in blooming and in bud. Image credit: E. Muscat.

Thismia is a genus of small, ephemeral herbaceous plants in the family Burmanniaceae.

First described in 1845, it occures in tropical and subtropical Asia, temperate Australia and tropical America. The highest species diversity is found in Borneo and the Malay Peninsula.

Commonly known as the fairy lanterns, members of the genus have a peculiar appearance, a complex morphology of the flowers, and a highly reduced vegetative structure.

They typically grow amongst moist leaf litter in forests and rely on fungal symbionts to obtain nourishment from decaying organic material, and they therefore lack chlorophyll.

Individual plants persist underground throughout most of the year, emerging only briefly to flower and set fruit after periods of heavy rain.

As a consequence, they are rarely collected and relatively little is known of their taxonomy, distribution and reproductive biology.

“Thismia is the most expressive genus of the family Thismiaceae (some classifications merge Thismiaceae into Burmanniaceae), with about 90 species occurring in the tropical and subtropical regions of the Paleotropic and Neotropics but not in Africa,” lead author Dr. Mathias Erich Engels from the Universidade Federal do Paraná and his colleagues wrote in their paper.

“Despite the current generic circumscription, molecular data suggest that the genus is paraphyletic, with the formation of distinct groups for the New and Old Worlds.”

“However, studies with more samples are necessary to elucidate the family relationships.”

“Despite the megadiverse flora in the Brazilian territory, Thismia is represented by only 13 species,” they added.

“The greatest richness occurs in the Atlantic Rainforest Domain, but there are also representatives in the Cerrado and the Amazon.”

In their new work, the authors described and illustrated a new species of Thismia from southeastern Brazil.

Named Thismia mantiqueirensis, the plant is known only from Toca do Muriqui, an elevated location in the Serra da Mantiqueira in the São Francisco Xavier sub-district, the Brazilian state of São Paulo.

“São Francisco Xavier is located in the Mantiqueira mountains, characterized by typical Atlantic Forest formations (750 to 2,000 m above sea level), with patches of rocky outcrops and many rocky streams,” they explained.

“The region has seasonal climate variations, with the dry season occurring from April to August (average temperature in July is 15.5 degrees Celsius) and the wet season between September and March (average temperature in January is 21.6 degrees Celsius).”

“It is possible the species only occurs in cloud and altitude montane forests, at about 1,200 m above sea level.”

“During the rainy season, it was possible to see some flowering individuals in the leaf litter near tree roots.”

“According to the IUCN criteria, Thismia mantiqueirensis could be assessed as Data Deficient,” the researchers wrote.

“Known only from one collection, it needs more sampling focus, which may result in the finding of more populations in different localities, increasing knowledge of the actual conservation status of this new species.”

“The trail where the plant was found is frequently used for ecotourism, which can lead to problems for the conservation of the species.”

The team’s paper was published in the journal Phytotaxa.


Mathias Erich Engels et al. 2022. Thismia mantiqueirensis (Thismiaceae), a new species of Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest. Phytotaxa 570 (2): 223-228; doi: 10.11646/phytotaxa.570.2.8

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