Botanic Notables: The Lady Gaga Fern

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Botanic Notables: The Lady Gaga Fern

November 1, 2012
04:07pm
Photo by: Duke University/Wired.uk

Lady Gaga is a pop star, cultural icon, provocateur and now, a genus of ferns—at least by name. Last week, botanists at Duke University named a newly identified genus, including 19 species of ferns, after the singer. 

The scientists are fans of her work, but that's only part of the story.  “We often listen to [Lady Gaga's] music while we do our research," says Kathleen Pryer, a professor of biology at Duke University and director of the school’s herbarium.  "We wanted to name this genus for [her] because of her fervent defense of equality and individual expression,” said Kathleen Pryer, a professor of biology at Duke University and director of the school’s herbarium. “And as we started to consider it, the ferns themselves gave us more reasons why it was a good choice.” 

First, there's Lady Gaga's support of alternative lifestyle, and the fact that the ferns themselves are atypical within the fern community. "The biology of these ferns is exceptionally obscure and blurred by sexual crossing between species," Pryer said. They have "somewhat fluid definitions of gender" and reproduce by spores that develop into adult plants that are male, female, or bisexual. Pryer and her colleagues felt that Lady Gaga was an inspiration for “disenfranchised people and communities like LGBT, ethnic groups, women — and scientists who study odd ferns!" said Pryer.

Second, there's the DNA—the sequence GAGA is repeated in the fern's genetic base pairs. While that combination isn't rare, what's incredible is that it is repeated in all nineteen species. "It essentially was in the DNA, to call it Gaga," says Pryer.  

Third, there's the visual similarity, thanks to an Armani design that Lady Gaga wore at the 2010 Grammy Awards—the texture and shape of which, according to the Duke botanists, resembles the fern's gametophyte (bisexual reproductive) stage.

While most of the Gaga-genus are reclassifications of existing species, two are recently discovered. They will be known as Gaga germanotta (for Lady Gaga's given name, Stefani Germanotta) and Gaga monstraparva (which translates to 'little monster,' a name the singer has given to her fans). 

It's not the first time an individual has been immortalized in a plant's name. The tradition traces back to the 17th century, when Carolus "Father of Botany" Linneaus named plants he liked for his friends; those he didn't, for his enemies. More recently, in 2009, a botanist named a new species of lichen Caloplaca obamae, to show his support for the newly elected President. So why not Lady Gaga? And, like the singer, her ferns are versed in the cross-continental tour; the Gaga genus can be found in Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Central and South America.