A tree called DiCaprio – and 5 other new species named by Kew Garden scientists and partners


Leonardo DiCaprio has a new namesake in the form of a tropical tree from Cameroon.

The first plant species named in 2022 by Kew Gardens in the UK, Uvariopsis dicaprio is so named thanks to the film star’s efforts to preserve his home in the precious Ebo Forest.

DiCaprio used his star power to help revoke a logging concession for the forest in 2020. The actor’s social media lobbying led to its cancellation just a month after it went into effect.

“We very much appreciated the support Leo gave us in the campaign to protect Ebo last year, so it seemed appropriate to honor him in this way, by naming a unique species only in this forest, after him,” says Dr Martin Cheek, Principal Investigator at Royal Africa Team at Botanic Kew Gardens.

“If the logging concession had been put in place, we would probably have lost this species to the logging and slash-and-burn agriculture that usually follows logging concessions.”

A member of the ylang-ylang family, the tree is considered critically endangered due to continuing threats to the forest from logging, mining and conversion of its habitat in agricultural land.

Covering half of the Yabassi Key Biodiversity Area, Ebo Forest is one of Cameroon’s largest intact rainforests. It is home to many other unique or endangered species, including elephants, gorillas, and the only chimpanzees known to crack nuts and fish for termites.

The Cameroonian government announced in February 2020 that nearly 1,300 square kilometers of forest would be cleared for felling, sparking an international campaign to save it, led by Cameroonian researchers.

It also prompted botanists to prepare a conservation checklist of the forest’s native flora and fauna, during which the four-metre-tall Dicaprio tree was collected by Kew scientist Lorna MacKinnon.

Plants are often named after people, usually other scientists who have shown a commitment to the field or area of ​​research. And a celebrity namesake can help a plant in peril make headlines around the world.

But this tropical tree is not the only species requiring attention. 205 plants and fungi were named new to science in 2021, many of which are already endangered – here are just five highlights from Kew’s list.

5. A “ghost” orchid that grows in almost complete darkness

Botanists have been transfixed by the discovery of a “ghost” orchid in Madagascar. Didymoplexis stella-silvae has been named “the star of the forest” because it grows in almost complete darkness and has star-shaped flowers. This ethereal beauty is leafless and entirely dependent on mushrooms for its energy. Its bright white flowers open immediately after rain before disappearing 24 hours later.

The unique orchid was one of 16 new species named last year, all native to Madagascar, but sadly three were already considered extinct in the wild before being officially registered. One, Habenaria crocodilium, was first found near a crocodile enclosure and is now thought to have been lost to a flash flood caused by climate change.

“It really is a race against time to document the island’s incredible biodiversity before it is lost,” says Kew researcher Johan Hermans.

4. A bug-killing tobacco plant from Australia

A species of wild tobacco has been reported to kill insects for the first time. It’s called Nicotiana insecticida and is one of seven new species in the plant family collected by scientists in Australia last year.

It may seem rather benign to the average passerby, but its sticky glands allow it to trap and kill small insects such as gnats, aphids and flies. And his deadly nature is not diminished by distance. Seeds collected by a truck stop in Western Australia and grown in greenhouses in London have also become killer plants.

“Australia’s arid regions, which include most of the continent, have been considered nearly barren with limited plant diversity, but in recent years these poorly studied areas have produced many new and unusual species,” comments the Kew scientist, Professor Mark Chase.

“Nicotiana insecticida well demonstrates the adage that ‘tobacco kills,’ although in this case it is the insects that get trapped on its sundew-like glandular hairs and die.”

3. Exploding firework flower threatened by palm oil plantations

Named for its resemblance to exploding fireworks, this new species of primrose, Ardisia pyrotechnica, has been discovered up to four meters tall in the Borneo rainforest.

One of the scientists who helped to name the species, Shuichiro Tagane of Kagoshima University in Japan, said that “firework forest primrose gets its name from the white flowers that stand out brightly when the plant blooms in July, and seeing the gorgeous, flamboyant flowers is a real bubbly pick-me-up in the hot, humid rainforest.”

Unfortunately, A. pyrotechnica is already assessed as critically endangered according to IUCN criteria. A handful of plants have been found growing in just two locations with palm oil plantations threatening its survival.

2. A weird and wonderful pink voodoo lily

This extremely rare species, Pseudohydrosme ebo, is restricted to a small corner of Cameroon’s vast and incredibly diverse Ebo forest – making it a neighbor of DiCaprio’s tree.

The forest is also the ancestral home of several local communities, including the Banen people, and 75 endangered plant species – eight of which are unique to the forest.

The voodoo lily blooms from an underground tuber when its leaves have died, and the flower spike can reach 30 cm in height. It is the only member of the genus in Cameroon, with all the other species present in Gabon.

1. A rare British mushroom with teeth instead of gills

A rare tooth fungus with a refined taste, Hydnellum nemorosum has been found growing in the Royal Gardens of Windsor Park. It was actually collected in 2008, but it took mycologists 13 years to determine that the samples were from a new species.

It is one of a small group of fungi that form mushrooms with teeth under their caps, instead of gills. They thrive in poor soils with low nitrogen levels and have a mutually beneficial partnership with the roots of living trees, exchanging soil minerals for leaf sugars. Populations have declined across Europe due to habitat loss and high levels of nitrogen in the air, so they are now recognized as threatened with extinction globally and nationally.


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