Amateur Botanists Discover Plant That Buries Its Own Seeds in Brazil

Posted on September 21, 2011

Spigelia Genuflexa

A new plant that buries its own seeds was discovered by an amateur botanists in the Atlantic forest of Bahia, Brazil. The new species has been named Spigelia genuflexa.

After fruits are formed, the fruiting branches "bend down," and deposit the capsules with seeds on the ground. The plant sometimes bends down enough that the seeds are buried in the soft cover of moss, a phenomenon called geocarpy. Researchers say this process helps the plants ensure that its seeds end up as close to the mother plant as possible, facilitating its propagation the following season.

The most well known plant that practices geocarpy is the peanut. The flower stalks of the peanut elongate after pollination and then bend, pushing the ovary underground where the legume pod develops.

Amateur botanist Alex Popovkin says he knew right away that this was something brand new. He has inventoried, photographed and identified over 800 plant species so far on his property in Bahia, Brazil. Popovkin says, "It's taken me 30 years, from my days as a volunteer at the greenhouses of the Botanic Garden of the University of St. Petersburg, Russia, to realize my dream of living in the tropics and studying its plants up close."

The plant was brought to the attention of Popovkin by Jose Carlos Mendes Santos, a handy man called Louro, who worked for Popovkin in rural northeastern Bahia, Brazi. Luoro spied the unusual tiny, inch-high plant with white-and-pink flowers. Luoro knew it was an interesting find from his many years working alongside a botanist, so he brought it to the attention of Popovkin.

A research paper about the discovery of Spigelia genuflexa was published here in the scientific journal PhytoKeys on September 14, 2011.

Photo: Alex Popovkin

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