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Kew Gardens' top 10 new plants and fungi discovered in 2023

Scientists at Kew Gardens have announced their top 10 plant and fungi discoveries of 2023, showcasing the astonishing diversity of the natural world. Despite naming 74 new plants and 15 fungi last year, these 10 discoveries stand out for their uniqueness and peculiarities. 

The findings span from explosive orchids on dormant volcanoes to underground flowering plants, highlighting species from various corners of the globe, including Borneo’s jungles and Antarctica’s icy wilderness. However, concerns arise as some of these species are already facing the threat of extinction.

An orchid saved by a rare bird 

The Aeranthes bigibbum, found in Madagascar, is particularly remarkable because it is found only in a small nature reserve. This reserve, managed by local villagers, is primarily focused on protecting the Helmet vanga, a rare bird with a distinctive blue beak. The income generated from birdwatchers visiting the reserve helps protect the forest, indirectly saving the orchid.

An explosive discovery on a dormant volcano

The Dendrobium lancilabium subspecies wuryae, a striking red orchid, was an unexpected find on Mount Nok, a dormant volcano on Indonesia’s Waigeo Island. The researchers were originally searching for a blue orchid not seen for decades.

Nine species of Australian tobacco 

Researchers discovered nine new species of Nicotiana in Australia, known for its arid climate. These species, part of the tobacco plant family, are adapted to survive in harsh environments. The new plants include N. olens, named for its pleasantly scented flowers.

A potentially carnivorous flower

In Madagascar, a peculiar sticky flower covered with thin hairs, each topped with a drop of dew, was discovered. Named Crepidorhopalon droseroides for its resemblance to carnivorous sundew plants, it belongs to the mint family and may possess insect-eating capabilities.

A baffling pair of underground trees 

In the Kalahari’s sandy soils of Angola, researchers found two extraordinary tree species that grow mostly underground. Baphia arenicola, a member of the bean family, barely exposes its leaves and flowers above ground. The second species, Adjanys Cochlospermum, named after environmental prize-winner Adjany Costa, features beautiful yellow flowers.

A new species of pathogenic fungus 

The Lichtheimia koreana, part of a heat-loving fungal group, was discovered in soy waste in South Korea. While it belongs to a family with three known human pathogens, this particular species is less likely to pose a threat to human health.

Three new Antarctic fungi 

Despite the harsh conditions of Antarctica, scientists have found a rich diversity of lichens. The newly discovered fungi species live on these lichens and contribute to the surprising biodiversity of the continent.

An unusual underground palm 

The Pinanga subterranea is a unique palm from Borneo that fruits and flowers entirely underground, a rare trait previously observed only in a single orchid species. Though new to science, this palm is well-known to some local Bornean communities.

An endangered Thai violet

A new species from the Microchirita family, with small yellow flowers known locally as Yat neramit, is already considered endangered. Found only in two unprotected sites in Thailand, the Microchirita fuscifaucia is threatened due to its limited habitat.

An indigo-bearing shrub

The newly discovered Indigofera abbottii, named after conservationist Anthony Dixon Abbot, is part of a family known for blue dye-producing plants. Found in South Africa, this species adds to the diverse Indigofera genus, which has various uses and ecological roles.

Dr. Martin Cheek of Kew’s Africa Team underscores the importance of documenting these new plants. “Without doing so, we risk losing these species without ever even knowing they existed,” he said. These findings highlight the incredible diversity of plant life and the need for conservation efforts to protect these unique species and their habitats.

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