Bizarre Alien-Like Plant That Lives Underground and Eats Mushrooms Spotted for First Time in 150 Years

Thismia neptunis, a flower found only in the Bornean rainforest, was spotted for the first time in 150 years, (Sochor et al)

This flower has no leaves, rarely blooms, lives underground for most of the year and eats mushrooms. The plant looks like it's from another world, but this "alien" flower actually lives in Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia. Now, scientists finally have a specimen of Thismia neptunis that they can study and better understand.

In 1866, an Italian botanist discovered the T. neptunis, a 3.5-inch tall reddish flower with tall protrusions coming out of its cup-shaped body. It was lucky that he spotted it, as the plant lives underground, and the flower only blooms above ground for a few weeks per year.

The botanist drew the bizarre plant in a notebook and named it, but then it was (almost) never seen again. A group of Czech researchers exploring the forest found the species again in 2017, and now we have photographic evidence of its existence, which looks remarkably similar to the old drawing. The researchers published a description of the flower in the journal Phytotaxa.

T. neptunis is a member of the Thismia genus, which includes 50 species of living and extinct flowers. These flowers are distinctive in that they don't photosynthesize, or get their nutrients from the sun, so they don't need green parts like leaves. Instead, they live underground and feed on mushrooms. The Thismia genus is also known as "fairy lanterns," because they resemble tiny, colorful lanterns.

The botanist who originally discovered Thismia neptunis in 1866 made this drawing of the strange flower. Odoardo Beccari

This is only the second time humans have documented T. neptunis, so it's hard to know whether it should be considered endangered or not. However, because the researchers estimate that there are fewer than 50 of these plants in the world, they suggest that it should be listed as critically endangered.

Furthermore, the lowland rainforest where it grows is near to civilization, and the researchers fear that further development of its habitat could lead to the extinction of the bizarre plant.