The tallest plant in the world is a vast seagrass meadow in Australia

Scientists have discovered the world’s largest plant off the coast of Australia – a seagrass meadow that grew by repeatedly cloning itself.

Genetic analysis has revealed that the underwater fields of rolling green seagrass are a single organism spanning 70 square miles reproducing over 4,500 years.

The research was published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The Posidonia australis seagrass meadow on the Peron Peninsula in Australia’s Shark Bay (Angela Rossen/The University Of Western Australia via AP)

Scientists confirmed that the seagrass was a single organism by sampling and comparing DNA from seagrass shoots across the bed, wrote Jane Edgeloe, study co-author and marine biologist at the University of ‘Western Australia.

A variety of plants and some animals can reproduce asexually. There are downsides to being clones of a single organism – such as increased susceptibility to disease – but “the process can create hopeful monsters” by allowing rapid growth, the researchers wrote.

Scientists call Poseidon’s ribbongrass prairie “the most widespread known clone on Earth,” covering an area larger than Washington.

Although the seagrass is huge, it is vulnerable. Ten years ago, seagrass beds covered an additional seven square miles, but cyclones and rising ocean temperatures linked to climate change have recently killed nearly a tenth of the ancient seagrass.

Chris B. Hall