From Russia with Love: New Russian snowdrop leads 2012 Kew discoveries
20 Dec 2012
A new species of snowdrop from Russia and a healthy, new chemical compound found in coffee leaves are among some of the discoveries made by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and its partners in 2012.
Following in the footsteps of their famous botanical predecessors, such as Sir Joseph Banks, Sir Joseph Hooker, and Charles Darwin, botanists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew continue to explore and study the world’s plant diversity, making astonishing discoveries every year. Their work involves a combination of fieldwork in remote and exotic parts of the world, research in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Herbarium, and a vast scientific collection of over seven million dried plants specimens perhaps the largest of its kind in the world.
David Simpson, Acting Head of the Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives, says, “To most people it is surprising that scientists are still discovering new species of plants and fungi. In fact, we think there are many more still to be found.
“Each year, Kew’s scientists make a very significant contribution to the discovery and description of new species. These discoveries are not just limited to our work in the field. In our laboratories, scientists are delving deeper in order to further our understanding of these new species and how they are related to species that are already known.”
The White Russian
A new species of snowdrop, endemic to the alpine meadows of a mountain ridge in south-west Russia, has been described and named by Dimitri Zubov and Kew’s Aaron Davis. Named Galanthus panjutinii (Panjutin’s snowdrop), the snowdrop was spotted by Dimitri as it looked unlike any other growing in that region of the Caucasus Mountains. It was determined to be a new species and named in honour of the climber and naturalist Platon Sergeevich Panjutin, who was known for his love for and collections of the flora of the Caucasus Mountains. The species is classed as endangered, as it grows in only five known locations.
Is coffee the new tea?
Recent research from Kew and the Institute for Research and Development (IRD) in France has identified coffee leaves as a source of potential health benefits.
An interesting compound, mangiferin, has been found in coffee leaves. Mangiferin, originally isolated in mangos, is known to be anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, antihyperlipidaemic (promoting a reduction of lipid levels in the blood) and also shows neuroprotective properties. In coffee, mangiferin is found in the leaves, but not in the beans.
The study also confirms that coffee leaves are rich in antioxidants – there are far greater quantities of antioxidants present in coffee leaves than in green or black tea. The main type of antioxidants found in coffee leaves, chlorogenic acids, have been shown by numerous researchers to have potential health benefits such as preventing oxidative damage, cerebrovascular diseases, enhancing potential brain performance and improving mental health, and potential for chemotherapy.
Historically, there was an attempt to make coffee-leaf tea as popular as black tea in the UK and Australia – it was even displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851, but it never caught on. Coffee leaf tea is still widely consumed in Ethiopia and some areas of South Sudan.
Further careful assessment of coffee-leaf tea would be required before it could be available in high street coffee chains, but enticing reports from over 100 years ago claim coffee leaf tea offers immediate relief from hunger and fatigue and the ability of ‘clearing the brain of its cobwebs’.
Further information http://aob.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/06/13/aob.mcs119.abstract
Grass species is the first new discovery on St Helena in more than 20 years
Eragrostis episcopulus (wavy hair grass) is a previously unnamed grass species from the South Atlantic island of St Helena, a UK Overseas Territory. Working with the St Helena National Trust and Nature Conservation Group, researchers estimated a world population of just over 2,000 individuals, 90% of which occur in two sites, with the remainder scattered along 15 km of the island’s south coast. It is the island’s first new plant discovery in 20 years.
The grass is important as the sites where it grows are rich in other rare endemic plants (such as Bulbostylis lichtensteiniana, Ceterach haughtonii, Eragrostis saxatilis and Ramalina lichens). These sites are pockets of native diversity amongst degraded scrub, which is now heavily dominated by non-native invaders, such as Carpobrotus edulis (hottentot fig). Threats are also posed from grazing rabbits. As a first step in the long-term conservation of Eragrostis episcopulus, seeds have been collected and an ex situ collection established on St Helena and at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (For more information http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12225-012-9413-1)
Jewel in the Crown – a new Indian Orchid
A new species of orchid (Ornithocheirus cacharensis) has been discovered by Indian botanists from the Botanical Survey of India and Kew’s orchid specialist, Andre Schuiteman. With beautiful, bright red and purple colouring, there are thought to be only ten plants of this new species in an area of less than 10km in the Cachar district of Assam. This critically endangered orchid closely resembles the more common moth orchid, which are often house plants. (For more information http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12225-012-9381-5)
East African floral delights
A significant milestone in botany was celebrated at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew on 13 September 2012 – the completion of a vast 60 year project documenting and furthering knowledge of the 12,104 wild plant species from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, including many plants new to science. The Flora of Tropical East Africa (FTEA) is the largest botanical project of its kind completed over the last 100 years.
Some of the new species discovered and described in 2012 are Stathmostelma stipitatum, Ceropegia richardsiae Masinde, Ceropegia yampwapwa Masinde (all from Tanzania) and Ceropegia filicorona Masinde (from Kenya).
Red Dragon Tree
This newly discovered species can only be found in a handful of sites in Central and North Eastern Thailand. It is a very tough tree with leathery, narrow sword-shaped leaves and long woody roots which can survive over 50 degree heat during the dry season with no water. Its yellow flowers are irregularly produced and growth probably slows. This species is vital to some lowland limestone karsts in Thailand as one of the dominant elements of their specialised desert-like vegetation and one of very few evergreen plants. A tonic drink can be made from the dried red sap, hence the Thai name Chan Daeng (red dragon tree). The tree and its relatives are considered ‘lucky’ in several Asian cultures, which is why they are taken from wild localities into nearby gardens and sold on markets. Many limestone karsts in Thailand are being damaged by extraction of limestone for concrete, threatening their unique plants such as the red dragon tree.
14 new species of Indigofera (indigos) have been described during the course of 2012. Few natural by-products have played as prominent a role in history and in international trade as indigo. It has been a valued dye from the earliest human civilizations because of its compatibility with all types of natural fibres and its ability to be combined with other natural dyes to create a range of colours not possible to produce with synthetic substitutes. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has had a long-standing interest in the research of this genus and these discoveries came about during ongoing research in southern tropical Africa. Indigofera has more than 750 species and occurs throughout the tropical regions of the world. It is a member of the Leguminosae or the pea family.
15 new species of very rare and spectacular palms have been described during 2012. Examples include Adonidia maturbongsii, an endangered species from pitted limestone landscapes of the Indonesian island of Biak with pendulous, bat-wing leaflets, and Heterospathe barfodii from Papua New Guinea, a stunning palm with chalky, white leaf bases and purple inflorescences, that has been cultivated for many years by gardeners, but overlooked as a new species until now.
In one major monograph, 11 new species of the genus Orania were described in collaboration between Kew and the Indonesian national herbarium (Herbarium Bogoriense). Several of the new species were discovered by Kew researchers and one of them, Orania bakeri, was named after Bill Baker, Kew’s Head of Palm Research to honour his contribution to palm research.
Palms are a hugely important group of plants, providing many of the basic necessities of human life such as food, drinks and medicines as well as materials for construction, utensils and crafts. As they are so useful, many are overexploited and some species are approaching extinction. For more information about palms and Kew’s palm research see http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/kew-stories/kew-research/palms/
Notes to Editors
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Visiting Kew Gardens
Dates GATES CLOSE (Last entry 1/2 hour before) Glasshouses & Galleries Climbers & Creepers Treetop Walkway (Last entry 1/4 hour before)
Tues 6 Nov 2012 to Fri 1 Feb 2013 4:15pm 3:45pm 10:30am - 3:45pm 3:45pm
(Last entry to the Gardens, the Glasshouses, Galleries and the Xstrata Treetop Walkway is 30 minutes before closing)
The Plant Hunters - an interactive book for iPad
Created by Somethin’ Else
By Carolyn Fry, published by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in association with Andre Deutsch
Available Now for £9.99
About Kew Gardens
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class Herbarium as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international visitor attraction. Its landscaped 132 hectares and RBG Kew’s country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract nearly 2 million visitors every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. Wakehurst Place is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. RBG Kew and its partners have collected and conserved seed from 10 per cent of the world's wild flowering plant species (c.30, 000 species). The aim is to conserve 25% by 2020, and its enormous potential for future conservation can only be fulfilled with the support of the public and other funders.
Kew receives funding from the UK Government through Defra for approximately half of its income and is also reliant on support from other sources. Without the voluntary monies raised through membership, donations and grants, Kew would have to significantly scale back activities at a time when, as environmental challenges become ever more acute, its resources and expertise are needed in the world more than ever. Kew needs to raise significant funds both in the UK and overseas. Members of the public can support the work of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership by getting involved with the ‘Adopt a Seed, Save a Species' campaign. For £25 an individual can adopt a seed or for £1000 anyone can save an entire species. www.kew.org/adoptaseed
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