Have you heard of mycorrhiza? It's the name of the delicate relationship established between some fungi and many plants.
An alliance is struck. The plant provides the fungus with sugars it gets from photosynthesis and in return the fungus becomes an elite army of subterranean mineral producers, scouring the earth for food and drawing nutrients from material the plant is incapable of dealing with.
Fungi spend most of their time as underground threads and occasionally grow a mushroom to spread their spores. Thismia spend most of their time as thieving roots and occasionally grow a tiny flower for pollination. They have no chlorophyll and no leaves because they simply don't need them.
Video: Vincent Merckx
It's not easy to uncover information about these plants, partly no doubt because it's not easy to uncover the plants themselves. There seems to be something of a mystery as to how pollination takes place, with suggestions that it might be achieved by tiny fungus gnats or animals that feed on roots and fungi.
Either way, the 50 or so species in the genus typically have a very constrained distribution, which means their pollen and seeds seldom go far. They all live in the southern hemisphere, in South and Central America and from Japan through to New Zealand.
It's so sad to lose it. This strange outlier who apparently survived so far from all its relatives. Are there others in other parts of North America? Was it a relic from ancient times that clung to life in the few remaining micro-habitats that could sustain it? Was it a seed from a completely different part of the world that somehow found itself in Chicago and managed to flower? It looks like we will never know.
I bet the fairies are livid...