Field of Science

250th is a good year for Kew Gardens

The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew celebrated its 250th birthday in 2009, and during this year botanists working there added over 250 new plant species (actually 292) to science. This feat and the amount of taxonomic research taking place at Kew can be put into perspective when you understand that on average about 1000 new plant species are described each year (Kew averages 200.). This accomplishment does not come easily. It took people working in the field collecting specimens in over 100 countries, collecting thousands of specimens, and then matching and comparing them with what is known, only to find some few that remain unknown. A rather frightening finding (at least it is if you know something about biology and diversity) is that nearly a third of these new species are in danger of extinction largely through habitat destruction. And of course knowing what exists and where diversity exists is the scientific basis for conservation efforts. If you want to see some of these discoveries and read more about them, visit the Kew Gardens web page.
OK, the Phytophactor had to pick his favorite new species, Isoetes eludens, a quillwort, which is part of the most ancient living lineage of vascular plants, the clubmosses. Wow! Doesn't that just take your breath away! Quillworts are a lot more common than people think because most people just don’t frog around in their shallow water habitats checking out reedy looking plants. When the water dries up quillworts die back to a perennial corm. Although they do not look it, quillworts are living descendents of arborescent lycopods of the Carboniferous era. Hey, don’t mock it, birds mostly don’t look like dinosaurs either. This one was found by Stephen Hopper, Kew's director, in temporary rock pools in South Africa, a country that is a hot bed of plant diversity .
HT to a BBC news story.


Desmond said...

Isoetes just happens to be one of my favorites, too! I haven't named a cat that yet, but it won't be long...

The Phytophactor said...

>>I haven't named a cat...Isoetes...yet.<<
Without a doubt a good cat name. Presently ours are named after black and white birds - Maggiepie and Marybou.