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Page last updated at 13:24 GMT, Monday, 20 December 2010
New mistletoe species discovered by Kew Gardens experts
By Victoria Gill
Science and nature reporter, BBC News

New species of mistletoe found in Mozambique (Image: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)
The plant was first discovered near the summit of Mount Mabu in 2008

A new species of tropical mistletoe has been described by scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London.

The research team found the plant on an expedition to Mount Mabu in northern Mozambique in 2008.

Now, just in time for Christmas, they have confirmed that Helixanthera schizocalyx is new to science.

The plant tops a list of Kew's botanical discoveries of 2010, which includes a Vietnamese orchid and an exceptionally rare tree from Cameroon.

New species of tree found in Cameroon, Magnistipula multinervia (Image: RBG Kew)
Only four of these giant trees are known to exist

Butterfly specialist, Colin Congdon, spotted the mistletoe in the dense foliage near the summit of Mount Mabu.

He realised that it was different from anything he had seen on the mountains in neighbouring Malawi and Tanzania. Closer inspection back at Kew confirmed it as a new species.

Mistletoes are "hemi-parasitic", meaning they take some of the nutrients they need from other plants.

When birds eat the small fleshy white sweet fruits, the seeds are wiped onto branches of trees, where they stick. Once germinated, the root grows into the living tissue of the tree to "suck out" its nutrients.

Giant genome

Another highlight from this year was the discovery of the largest genome of any living species studied so far. This was found in Paris japonica, a subalpine plant endemic to Honshu, Japan.

Its genome is 50 times the size of the human genome - so large that if this line of genetic code was to be stretched out, it would be taller than the tower of Big Ben.

Plants with such large genomes may be at greater risk of extinction as biologists believe they are less able to adapt to environmental changes.

The other plant discovery highlights from 2010 include:

  • Lustrous Vietnamese orchid(Dendrobium daklakense).
New species of orchid found in Vietnam, Dendrobium daklakense (Image: Duong Toan)
The beautiful new orchid may already be endangered

This beautiful orchid, with white and orange flowers, was first collected in 2009 by a local plant hunter in the Dak Lak province of southern Vietnam. Botanists at Kew suspect it is already endangered.

  • Cameroon canopy giant (Magnistipula multinervia). At 41m, the gigantic but critically endangered tree towers above the canopy of the lush green rainforests of Korup National Park, where it was found. The team used alpine climbing equipment to scale its heights and collect specimens of its fruit from which to identify it. Only four of these trees are known to exist.
  • New palms in Madagascar.
  • New species of palm found in Madagascar, Dypsis dracaenoides (Image: M.Rakotoarinivo/ RBG Kew)
    Dypsis dracaenoides is one of 14 new palm species found in Madagascar

    With the help of local palm expert, Joro Rakotoarinivo, Kew scientist John Dransfield has described no fewer than 14 new species of Madagascan palms this year, all of which are threatened in the wild. Among these are Dypsis metallica, which has thick, steely-blue leaves and Dypsis dracaenoides, which resembles a spiky dragon tree.

  • Medicinal aubergine (Solanum phoxocarpum). Commonly known as 'Osigawai' in the local Masai language, the plant was discovered during an expedition to Kenya's Aberdare mountainous cloud forests. It is used medicinally by local people, but Kew scientists say it may be poisonous.
  • Wild Irises from the Andes.
  • New species of iris, Mastigostyla chuquisacensis (Image: Darwin Project)
    The pretty iris could become an ornamental garden plant

    Researchers found three new Bolivian iris species from the genus Mastigostyla. One of these (Mastigostyla chuquisacensis) is found in the sandy hollows between rocks on sandstone mountain ridges near Sucre. This species could become an ornamental garden plant.

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