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Chilly love note leads to floral discovery

A LOVESICK Polish scientist on a remote island in Antarctica has aided understanding of the South Pole's two flowering plants, Chilean researchers have said.

The two plants were found flourishing side by side on a two-metre long letter "M" -- the first letter of the Polish scientist's beloved's name "Magda." The scientist drew the M in penguin dung several years ago on King George Island, a barren and icy wilderness at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

In surrounding areas, the two plants, the Antarctic pearlwort and the Antarctic hair grass, do not grow together -- a sign that the penguin dung acted as a fertiliser to create the rare floral love message.

"Many years ago a man wrote an 'M' for 'Magda' with penguin dung on the ground," the Chilean Antarctic Institute said in a report supplied to Reuters at Britain's Rothera research station on the Antarctic Peninsula.

"Today the Antarctic hair grass and the Antarctic pearlwort grow there together, perpetuating this unusual love story," the Institute said of the findings by botanist Luisa Bascunan of Chile's University of Concepcion.

Bascunan said in an e-mail that she visited King George Island, the largest of the South Shetland Islands, last year and was struck by the "M" and its plants. The head of the Polish research station on the island told her the history of the "M."

Scientists are studying the plants to try to understand how they survive bone-chilling temperatures, winter darkness and extremely high ultra-violet radiation in summer. Global warming may make conditions easier for the plants.

Bascunan said the ground-hugging pearlwort might have benefited on the "M" from shade provided by the taller hair grass, which is better at growing on barren ground.

"The Antarctic pearlwort is a more delicate plant that needs more favorable conditions to survive. By contrast the hair grass is more aggressive, able to colonize really unfavorable spots," she said.

"For many of us who study the pearlwort it is surprising that it can be found in Antarctica when it is not so resistant to unfavorable conditions," she said. "That is still a great mystery."

The pearlwort is also found in the Andes mountains.


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