updated 2/17/2011 10:48:56 AM ET 2011-02-17T15:48:56

A new species of mistletoe is among plant discoveries in 2010. Nobody is likely to be found kissing under a sprig of it, though, because so far it's been found only on a single mountain in Mozambique.

The new species is a type of tropical mistletoe. Tropical mistletoes differ from the Christmas classic in that they are leafier than the typical cluster of white berries on a green stem that comprises European or North American mistletoe, said Jonathan Timberlake of the United Kingdom's Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Timberlake led the 2008 expedition to Mount Mabu in northern Mozambique, where the new species was found.

Butterfly specialist Colin Congdon noticed the plant growing near the peak. "He with his eagle eye saw this thing," Timberlake said. "He recognized it as somewhat different."

The team collected specimens, and after analyzing records of other species, researchers this year determined the Mt. Mabu mistletoe was a new species, which they named Helixanthera schizocalyx. "We haven't seen it anywhere else yet," Timberlake said. "It's possible that it can be found on another mountain nearby."

While the mistletoe is the only new plant found on the mountain so far, researchers have also identified a new chameleon, two new snakes, a new crab and several new species of butterfly, Timberlake said.

Mount Mabu is an inselberg, an "island-mountain" of granite rising abruptly out of the surrounding level country in Mozambique. Such inselbergs often harbor unique species, because they provide an isolated habitat that differs from the rest of the area, researchers said.

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant. Its berries attract birds, but when birds eat the berries, they encounter a gelatinous mess. The birds either wipe the goo off of their beaks, leaving the seeds stuck to a branch, or pass the seeds in their poop. The seeds then germinate on a tree branch, burrowing roots into the wood of the host tree to tap the host's water and minerals for most of their needs, while carrying out some photosynthesis of their own.

Ancient druids held mistletoe as an aphrodisiac. Before Christmas trees became household standards in the 1800s, a "kissing bough" of mistletoe was common in homes, according to the Royal Botanic Gardens. A berry was plucked for each kiss until they all were gone.

The Royal Botanic Gardens highlighted other species identified by their researchers this year, including a Vietnamese orchid, a 135-foot-tall tree species in Cameroon with only four trees known and a small Japanese plant with the largest known genome -- 50 times larger than the human genome and 15 percent larger than the runner up.

"It's hard to understand what the advantage is in evolutionary terms, of having a genome that's so large," said David Mabberley, also of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. "It's not that it gives it a particular edge over other things. It's not found very widely. It just has huge balloon-like chromosomes with enormous amounts of DNA."

Researchers also found specimens of several plants and fungi thought to be extinct. "Occasionally some things are found that give us hope when so much seems so gloomy," Mabberley said.

Globally, researchers identify about 2000 new plant species a year. "There are large parts of the world that we have never even looked at," said Robert Magill of the Missouri Botanical Garden in Saint Louis.

"Most of our medicines come from animals and plants," he added. "(Plants) are threatened with being pushed over and put down and we don't even know what their use may be."

© 2012 Discovery Channel


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