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Kew discovers new nettle species in caves

Scientists from China and Kew Gardens have discovered 10 new species of nettle in the caves and gorges of southwestern China.

Nettles belonging to the genus Elatostema growing in Yangzi cave, China (Image: A. Monro)
Nettles belonging to the genus Elatostema growing in Yangzi cave, China (Image: A. Monro)

Southwestern China, Myanmar and northern Vietnam contain one of the oldest exposed outcrops of limestone in the world. Within this area are thousands of caves and gorges. Wei Yi-Gang (Chinese Academy of Sciences, Guangxi Institute of Botany) and Alex Monro (Kew) have been exploring these caves and gorges for plants from the nettle family (Urticaceae).

Alex initially thought that reports of “cave-dwelling plants” were due to a mistranslation of a Chinese word. However, a visit to the first cave, Yangzi cave in Guangxi, did indeed reveal clumps of small plants growing deep within the entrance where light levels were as little as 0.04% full sunlight.

The cave explorations have so far yielded 10 species new to science, seven from the genus Elatostema and three from Pilea (two species-rich genera of succulent nettles that together total probably more than 1,500 species). The new species often occur in only one or two localities and are restricted to the deep shade of forests, stream sides, gorges and caves.

Item from Dr Alex Monro (Senior Botanist, RGB Kew)
Kew Scientist, issue 43

Article references:

Wei, Y.G., Monro, A.K. & Wang, W.T. (2011). Additions to the Flora of China: seven new species of Elatostema (Urticaceae) from the karst landscapes of Guangxi and Yunnan. Phytotaxa 29: 1-27

Monro, A.K. , Wei, Y.G. & Chen, C.J. (2012). Three new species of Pilea (Urticaceae) from limestone karst in China. PhytoKeys 19: 51-56.

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