Review: Discoveries of 2010


As the International Year of Biodiversity draws to a close we can reflect on some of the amazing botanical discoveries of the past 12 months.

In most years approximately 2,000 new plant species are discovered. The team at Kew in the UK finding about 10% of the total and 2010 was no exception. As director of Kew, Stephen Hopper, explains: "Each year, botanists at Kew, working in collaboration with local partners and scientists, continue to explore, document and study the world’s plant and fungal diversity, making astonishing new discoveries from microscopic fungi to canopy giants."

Just before Christmas Kew announced a new mistletoe from Mozambique, which was spotted by a butterfly specialist, Colin Congdon, while a Kew team were trekking up Mount Mabu - an area that became famous in 2008 for its stunning biodiversity when first explored properly by Kew.

two men on mountain looking at view over forests and hills

Botanists survey the surroundings from the top of Mount Mabu in Mozambique.

© Tom Timberlake

Most new discoveries tend to be fairly small, but not so when Xander van der Burgt stumbled upon a giant tree in Cameroon, which he described as "the rarest tree I have ever found". Magnistipula mutinervia is incredibly rare - only four individuals are known so far - but it's also a monster of the canopy in Korup National Park where it reaches 41m high.

fruit lying on floor of forest

The fruits of the canopy giant, Magnistipula multinervia, lie on the forest floor. After numerous visits to the four known trees over a period of several years to check if they were flowering and fruiting the team were successful. Using climbing equipment they were able to make their collection, and identify it as new.

From Vietnam came a beautiful new species of orchid. Dendrobium daklakense was first collected in 2009 and after it couldn't be identified by Vietnamese orchid specialist Nguyen Thien Tich he enlisted the help of Andre Schuiteman from Kew and Jaap Vermeulen from the NCB Naturalis in The Netherlands.

Schuiteman said: "Although undescribed orchids are still discovered regularly in the tropics, it is remarkable that such a distinct and showy species could have escaped detection until recently."

white orchid flowers in close up

The beautiful new Dendrobium orchid from Vietnam. "The next step is to determine its exact location so that we can assess its conservation stauts, though I suspect that it is endangered," said Andre Schiteman. © Duong Toan

In August Plant Talk reported on the exciting rediscovery of a tiny fern on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. Botanist Dr Phil Lambdon and local Conservation Officer, Stedson Stroud, noticed a tiny fern leaf poking out from a rock face. They instantly recognised it as the long-lost Ascension Island parsley fern, Anogramma ascensionis, which was once common on the mountain, and recorded by Sir Joseph Hooker in 1876, but had since been declared extinct.

close up of small fern growing on dark rock

The tiny parsley fern (Anogramma ascensionis) was declared extinct in 2003 by IUCN, but the exciting discovery of four plants in 2009 on a remote mountain ridge has given conservationists hope for its future. © Reinhard Mischke

Read the full story from Kew

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Mozambique: Kew find new mistletoe from slopes of Mount Mabu


picture of herbarium specimen of mistletoeWith just a few days to go before Christmas scientists at Kew have announced the discovery of a new species of tropical mistletoe from the remote slopes of Mount Mabu in Mozambique.

Ascension Island: Hooker’s lost parsley fern found on mountain

17.08.10 by Stedson Stroud and Olivia Renshaw

small green fernOn 27 July 2009, the Ascension Island Government’s Conservation Team were conducting a routine annual plant census with botanist Dr. Phil Lambdon. “We were exploring a narrow ridge on the southern side of Green Mountain. By chance, Phil and I noticed a tiny frond sticking out of a crevice in the rock." Stedson Stroud and Olivia Renshaw tell the story of their chance discovery.

IN PICTURES: New species from 2009


new species thumbIn most years - globally - approximately 2,000 new plants make themselves known to science. One of the most prolific has to be the team at Kew who collectively discovered more than 250 new species in 2009.