A team of scientists from Surat’s Veer Narmad South Gujarat University has found world’s smallest land fern hiding in the Ahwa forests of the Western Ghats in Gujarat’s Dang district.
According to a recent study in Scientific Reports, an international journal that publishes multidisciplinary research, the fingernail-sized fern belongs to a group known as the adder’s-tongue ferns, named after their resemblance to a snake’s tongue.
The size of the new Malvi’s adder’s-tongue fern Ophioglossum malviae – just one centimetre – is probably the reason why it remained hidden all along, said researcher Mitesh Patel of the Department of Biosciences at Surat’s Veer Narmad South Gujarat University, who stumbled across the plant during a botanical expedition in 2016.
He found the species, when he was lying on his stomach and looking for other small Ophioglossum ferns in the Ahwa forest division when he came across the distinct fern.
Taking it back to the lab, he and his colleagues studied its morphology in detail to find that it differed from similar ferns in not just size (the most similar adder’s-tongue fern is 10 cm tall) but other complex fern features too. A look at the plant’s minuscule seeds (called spores) under a powerful electron microscope revealed it had a unique thick outer layer which similar species lacked. The researchers also analysed the plant’s DNA and found it to vary enough from its relatives to call it a new species.