Major discovery: ‘Biggest plant on Earth’ found in Shark Bay off Australia’s west coast

Major discovery: ‘Biggest plant on Earth’ found in Shark Bay off Australia’s west coast

Around 18,000 genetic markers were examined for variations in the species

The biggest plant on Earth seems to have been found in Shark Bay off Australia’s west coast, media reports said. It covers around 200 sq km area, as per scientists. This plant belongs to the species Posidonia australis. It is also known as fibre-ball weed or ribbon weed. It is usually found along the southern coastlines of Australia. Scientists seem to have stumbled upon the discovery while looking for genetic differences in ribbon weed across the bay. They seem to have hit the jackpot when the samples taken from sites even 180km apart showed that they were of single plant and not multiple specimens of Posidonia australis.

“We thought ‘what the hell is going on here?’ We were completely stumped,” said Dr Martin Breed, ecologist, Flinders University.

Around 18,000 genetic markers were examined for variations in the species, which could help select specimens for use in restoration projects, said Jane Edgeloe, student researcher, University of Western Australia (UWA). But it was the same plant, which had spread using rhizomes. It has happened in the same way a lawn spreads from its edges by sending out runners. “The existing 200 sq km of ribbon weed meadows appear to have expanded from a single, colonising seedling,” Edgeloe said.

Major discovery: ‘Biggest plant on Earth’ found in Shark Bay off Australia’s west coast
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The research has been published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. According to these experts, the plant seems to have taken at least 4,500 years to spread as far as it has as the ribbon weed rhizomes grow up to 35cm a year.

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