A ghost orchid that grows in total darkness, a bug-trap tobacco plant and an “exploding firework” flower are among the new species named by scientists last year. Species range from a Cameroon voodoo lily to a rare dental fungus unearthed near London, UK.
A new tree in the ylang-ylang family is the first to be named in 2022 and is named after actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio. He campaigned to revoke a logging concession that threatened the African tree, which features brilliant yellow flowers on its trunk.
The highlighted plants are among 205 new species named in 2021 by scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and their collaborators around the world. All are vital components of the planet’s biodiversity and some can provide food and medicine.
However, many are already extinct in the wild and many are threatened by destruction of forests, expansion of oil palm plantations and mining. There are 400,000 named plant species and two out of five are threatened with extinction. Scientists said it was a race against time to identify new plants before they were gone forever.
In total, scientists around the world have named around 2,000 new plant species each year for at least a decade. “It’s almost confusing that we’re still finding out so much,” said Dr Martin Cheek of RBG Kew. “But now is our last chance to find unknown species, name them and hopefully protect them before they become extinct on a global scale.”
The new ghost orchid is one of 16 new orchids from the dense and remote forests of Madagascar, it was named Didymoplexis stella silvae by Johan Hermans de Kew, which means ‘forest star’ as it grows in total darkness and has star shaped flowers. It does not have leaves or chlorophyll for photosynthesis and gets all of its nutrients in symbiosis with underground fungi. The flower only passes through the humus of the forest soil for one day to attract pollinators, which may be ants.
Three of the new orchids are already believed to have gone extinct in the wild due to the destruction of their forest homes, including an arboreal species that was likely eradicated due to demand for geranium oil used in aromatherapy. “Unfortunately, Madagascar’s many unique plants are threatened by deforestation and droughts, floods and fires caused by climate change,” Hermans said. “It’s really a race against time.
The unusual tobacco plant was one of seven new species found near a roadhouse in Western Australia and is covered in sticky glands that trap and kill insects, presumably for defensive purposes. “The arid regions of Australia, which include most of the continent, have been considered almost barren, but in recent years these poorly studied areas have produced many new and unusual species,” said Professor Mark Chase, by RBG Kew.
The tropics are known hotspots for biodiversity and a spectacular new species of primrose found in Borneo has been named Ardisia pyrotechnica because its rain of white flowers looks like exploding fireworks. However, it is already assessed as Critically Endangered, as only a few plants have been found in two locations and it is threatened by oil palm plantations.
“Who knows how many thousands of plant species it will be revealed in the future that they have probably become extinct due to oil palm plantations,” Cheek said. “It’s disgusting.”
The new pink voodoo lily has a 30cm tall floral spike and was found in a small corner of the vast Ebo forest in Cameroon. The tree named after Di Caprio was also found in the forest of Ebo. But despite the cancellation of operating permits in August 2020 by the President of Cameroon, Uvariopsis dicaprio remains critically endangered because its habitat is still unprotected from potential future logging.
The new fungus was first found in Great Windsor Park in the UK under a chestnut tree in 2008, but has not been named so far because DNA analysis of a series of ‘cash had to be carried out together. It is one of a group of unusual fungi that form fungi with elongated teeth under their caps, rather than gills, and which are becoming increasingly rare due to nitrogen pollution from agriculture.
Another new species, a blue berry bush from the coffee family found in Borneo, took even longer to be scientifically named. It was first seen by scientists in a painting by eminent botanical artist Marianne North, made in 1876 while staying by the Sarawak River.
A new species has been discovered not in nature, but in the laboratory. The microscopic fungus was found hidden in a wild Vietnamese banana seed stored at the Millennium Seed Bank in Kew, Sussex. Fusarium chuoi, which has a coral color and a velvety texture, is an “endophyte”, a fungus that lives inside a plant without causing visible damage to it. Distinguishing them from pathogenic fungi is crucial for protecting plant health, the scientists said.
Other new species highlighted included a periwinkle from the Andean valleys in Bolivia, which has kiwi-like fruits that are edible when roasted and may also have medicinal properties and five pretty Cape Primroses from the Democratic Republic. of the Congo which are threatened by copper. mining.
“A lot of our medicines come directly from plants or are inspired by compounds from plants,” Cheek said. “If we wipe out species before we can even examine the chemicals in them, right? “