Burmannia coelestis D. Don
by Mrs. Rafidah Abdul Rahman & Mrs. Syahida Emiza Suhaimi
Burmannia coelestis D. Don
by Mrs. Rafidah Abdul Rahman & Mrs. Syahida Emiza Suhaimi

Burmanniaceae is a family of monocotyledons that includes both autotrophic and mycoheterotrophic species. The latter species were formerly considered as saprophytes but they in fact have a weakly parasitic association with fungi. Burmannia coelestis is a semi-mycoheterotrophic because it has small green leaves as well as having an association with fungi. It is probably this association that enables it to live on nutrient poor substrates.

It was first described by Don from Nepal in 1825 and is a pretty annual or short-lived herb with a very slender green stem about 20 cm tall and small, linear-lanceolate green leaves that arise from the base. The inflorescences at the top of the stem usually have a single or up to 4 flowers (rarely up to 8) and each has a lanceolate bract. In Latin, the specific epithet ‘caelestis’ refers to the skyblue flower colour. However, more accurately the flowers are pale violet-blue with yellowish or almost white tepals. They are 6-8 mm long and the perianth tube has 3 rather broad wings. There are 3 stalkless stamens and the style is short with a 3-lobed stigma. The fruit is a 3-winged capsule. The ellipsoid seeds are tiny and produced in very large quantities. Presumably the seeds are dispersed by wind.

Burmannia coelestis is widespread and commonly found in grassy or sandy areas in poor bare soil. The species is widely distributed in Nepal, Bangladesh, India, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Borneo, Indonesia, New Guinea and Australia. Even though it is a common species, in Peninsular Malaysia it has only been collected from a few localities probably because open field areas are seldom visited by botanists.

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