You may be asking yourself why I have posted a picture of some sort of strange sea anemone but I assure you, this is not oceanic in the least. What you are looking at here is indeed a plant. These flowers are quite small, parasitic, endangered, and pretty much a complete mystery in every other aspect. This seems to be the case for pretty much the whole family.
The family is referred to as Burmanniaceae. It is a wide ranging family, with members located around the globe in tropical and sub-tropical regions. All of the genera within Burmanniaceae are parasitic mycoheterotrophs on some level. A few clades within the family produce their own chlorophyll while many others produce none at all. Most of these plants are small, which makes them incredibly hard to locate and study. This is probably the main reason that they remain such a mystery to the world. Like many mycohetertrophic plants, it is likely that they only flower when there is enough energy to do so. For most of their life, they probably remain underground as a sort of protocorm until they can again store enough energy to flower. This makes assessment of any given population very difficult and any estimation of population size is likely to be marred by a serious margin of error.
The most striking aspect of this family are they odd flower morphologies. As you can tell by the picture, they look more like sessile invertebrates than flowers. Many of them do not form on the apical part of the stem either, but instead form a right angle with it. The bent flowers form a tube, which undoubtedly has something to do with their pollinators but, again, that sort of information is severely lacking. So where does Burmanniaceae fit into the kingdom of the plants? There is a school of thought that places it as a basal sister group to the orchids! Indeed many aspects of their morphology seem to suggest such a relationship. Again, the overall picture of Burmanniaceae is lacking. More research needs to be done on the species that make up this family. Sadly, because they are small and not understood, very little has been done to protect these plants. It is likely that we are loosing and have lost many species that will never be known.
Photo Credit: Vincent Merckx & Martin I. Bidartondo, © D. Zappi, RBG, Kew, Catherine L. Woodward, Alex Popovkin, Vincent Merckx