A WA scientist has discovered eight tiny new species of Stylidium, commonly known as triggerplants, two of which are confined to the Mid West region.
Western Australian Herbarium senior research scientist Juliet Wege came upon the Little Wildebeest (Stylidium cornuatum), a new species with petals shaped like the horns of gnus, during a field search for a different plant near Eneabba.
The second species, the Glistening Triggerplant (Stylidium scintillans), named after its flower that glistens in the sunlight to lure nectar-seeking insects, was discovered in a mining area.
“These new finds kick-started my work on the tiny triggerplants because it was clear that our knowledge of these plants was far from complete,” Dr Wege says.
“It was especially important to properly document the new species from the mining area to ensure its future conservation.”
In addition to studying plants in the wild, Dr Wege’s research has involved examining hundreds of pressed plant collections at the herbarium.
With more than 300 species, Stylidium is widespread throughout the country, particularly in the South West of WA where it commonly grows in a range of habitats including swamps and sand-plain country.
However, Dr Wege says some species are rare or potentially threatened and only known from one or two populations, hence the importance of taxonomic work.
“Taxonomic research helps us to understand what species we have, where they grow and how common they are,” she says.
“We now have much better information on the tiny triggerplants, and hopefully this information will be used to find more populations of the poorly known species.”
Triggerplants derive their name from the floral trigger, a fusion of the male and female reproductive parts, which snaps like a catapult in response to nectar-seeking insects landing on a flower.
Unlike carnivorous plants such as the Venus Flytrap, triggerplants harmlessly strike the insect to coat it with pollen or to retrieve pollen the insect was already carrying.
“It is a quick motion that occurs within a blink of an eye or as little as 15 milliseconds,” Dr Wege says.
“The insects don’t really seem to mind; they get startled and fly off but they will go straight back to another flower in search of nectar.
“It is a nifty way of transferring pollen between different plants.”
Dr Wege’s research on the tiny triggerplants is part of a larger project to find, identify and provide taxonomic information on all triggerplant species in Australia.