Sydney, Australia, June 1 (EFE).- The largest plant in the world – a seagrass spanning 180 sq km (69 square miles) – more than three times the size of Manhattan – was discovered in western Australia, a study published Wednesday said.
The plant is believed to be at least 4,500 years old.
The discovery happened as researchers from the University of Western Australia (UWA) and Flinders University examined which plants for a seagrass restoration project.
The team sampled seagrass shoots from Shark Bay and generated a “fingerprint” using 18,000 markers.
“The answer blew us away – there was just one,” UWA student researcher Jane Edgeloe, lead author of the study, said in a statement.
“That’s it, just one plant has expanded over 180 km in Shark Bay, making it the largest known plant on earth.”
The plant is a species of the seagrass Posidonia australis, also known as fiber ball weed or ribbon weed, common in the waters of southern Australia.
Until now, Pando clonal colony in the Utah state was considered the largest-known organism in the world, connecting 47,000 genetically identical poplar trees through their roots over 43 hectares.
Apart from its size, the plant discovered in Australia also has twice the number of chromosomes of other large seagrass clones, meaning it is a polypoid, according to evolutionary biologist Elizabeth Sinclair, a senior author of the study.
Polyploid plants, a genetic characteristic that this seagrass shares with potatoes or bananas, tend to reside in places with extreme environmental conditions and are often sterile, even as they can continue to grow if left undisturbed as this specimen did.
“Even without successful flowering and seed production, it appears to be really resilient, experiencing a wide range of temperatures and salinities plus extreme high light conditions, which together would typically be highly stressful for most plants,” Sinclair said. EFE