Scientists stumble over a strange flora species probably never been found on Norway’s Svalbard until now.
The plant is believed to be of the same type as the alpine butterwort (Pinguicula alpine), a carnivorous plant which can be found Norway’s mainland.
“I would never have thought that we would find a new species among the flora here, but I think we have,” botanist Pernille Bronken Eidesen told NRK. She is currently there with molecular biologist Anna Vader, who discovered the plant.
“I was just walking and looking around here”, said Ms Vader, “I thought it was a violet at first, but then I saw these leaves that are characteristicand had to go and consult Pernille. She was quite surprised.”
Normally found in central and northern European mountain regions and northern Asia, the alpine butterwort often grows near springs, brook banks, and moist to wet cliffs in chalky soils. It can grow in marshy ground, sometimes.
Its seeds need temperatures from -10°C to 0°C (14°F to 32°F) and germination takes between 8 and 12 weeks. This process normally starts between March and May, and the soil must be moist.
Botanists first discovered the Ringhordalen area containing the alpine butterwort on Svalbard in 2007.
According to Pernille Bronken Eidesen, the area is a botanic oasis due to Svalbard’s otherwise barren terrain.
“Almost nothing grows [outside it], it’s just sand and stone, almost like the surface of the moon. There’s obviously a warm pocket with favorable conditions here,” she remarked.
Researchers are enthusiastic over the first new insect-pollinated flower discovery since 1975, but there are wider consequences to consider.
The impact on and future of the region’s flora species due to a warmer region, with its accompanying sea ice and iceberg melting is unknown.
“Svalbard is poorly studied. It [the alpine butterwort] has certainly been here for a long time, but there’s just never been any one here to discover it,” said Ms Bronken Eidesen
Genetic tests will now be performed on the flower to establish whether it is a new species, or the same as found on mainland Norway.
How do you perform these?
“There are different ways, depends on how you do it,” molecular biologist Anna Vader told The Foreigner by phone.
“The genes are analyzed, and which exact one you look at depends on the closeness of relation to what you are looking for. It’s a type of fingerprinting,” she concluded.