New mistletoe species found in time for Christmas

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Scientists have discovered a new tropical species of mistletoe, the plant under which revellers traditionally kiss at Christmas, Britain's Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew said Monday.

In a list of Kew's top botanical discoveries announced this year, the gardens said an expedition found the parasitic plant, named Helixanthera schizocalyx, near the summit of Mount Mabu in northern Mozambique.

The mistletoe was first noticed during the expedition in 2008 by Colin Congdon, a butterfly specialist, who realised it was different from anything he had seen on mountains in Malawi and Tanzania, the gardens said in a statement.

Scientists confirmed that it was a new discovery just in time for Christmas this year.

Only five examples have been collected, all from the same area of the mountain, growing on a species of coffee tree.

Mistletoe grows on several species of tree, including elm, apple, pine and oak, and is used in many cultures as a Christmas decoration, often with the tradition by which people kiss underneath a sprig of it.

Another highlight of the previously undiscovered plants confirmed this year by the Royal Botanic Gardens include a huge 41-metre (134-foot) tree found in Cameroon which is so rare that only four examples are known to exist.

The tree, Magnistipula multinervia, is only found in a tiny area of Korup National Park in Cameroon. Researchers had to climb the giant tree to collect samples of its fruit because it does not drop to the ground.

A large new orchid was also discovered in southern Vietnam, Kew said. The white and yellow flower, Dendrobium daklakense, was found by a hunter who passed it to a local orchid grower.

Scientists in Britain also found two types of fungi -- one of which, bird's-eye primrose smut, hijacks flowers before sending out clouds of black spores -- which were previously believed to be extinct.

© 2010 AFP

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