A recently discovered seagrass plant is around 4,500 years old and could continue expanding indefinitely.
Scientists have discovered the world's biggest plant in Australia: A vast network of seagrass meadows that covers more than 77 square miles (200 sq.km). That's nearly four times the size of Manhattan.
The network of meadows is actually one single plant that has been continually cloning itself for almost 4,500 years. It's also very good news for the planet as seagrass can capture carbon an amazing 35 times faster than rainforests.
Researchers found the enormous clone while studying the genetic diversity of seagrasses in Shark Bay, a protected body of shallow water in Western Australia. They learned that almost all the region's meadows of Poseidon’s ribbon weed (Posidonia australis) are genetically identical. Further analysis revealed that unlike the other seagrasses in the area, which reproduce sexually, P. australis is actually cloning itself through an underground network of branching roots.
The P. australis clone stretches for around 112 miles (180 km) from end to end, "making it the largest known example of a clone in any environment on Earth," the researchers wrote in the study, published on 31 May in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. It dwarfs the previous record-holder: a clone of the seagrass Posidonia oceanica in the western Mediterranean, which spans around 9 miles (15 km).
"It is a single plant" that has been able to grow uninterrupted, senior researcher Elizabeth Sinclair, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Western Australia, told Live Science. If it remains undisturbed, the gigantic clone could continue to expand indefinitely, Sinclair added, making it practically immortal.