Discovered in a glasshouse

Fifty years on, a species found growing here at Kew finally gets a name!

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22 Dec 2009

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Isoglossa variegata type specimen from Kew's Herbarium

Isoglossa variegata type specimen from Kew's Herbarium (Image: RBG Kew)

Most of this year’s discoveries come direct from the wild, but in one case, a new species was found closer to home – in our very own Princess of Wales Conservatory.

Kew's Dr Iain Darbyshire, an expert on African botany, stumbled across Isoglossa variegata during a lunchtime wander in the glasshouse, where it was used for tropical bedding. Dr Darbyshire, who has contributed 36 new species from the Acanthus family (Acanthaceae) alone to this year’s list, later found specimens in the Herbarium. It was first collected nearly 100 years ago, but on another specimen from the 1950s there is a note stating “NAME URGENTLY DESIRED”. 

Isoglossa variegata

Isoglossa variegata - one of the new discoveries found closer to home!

Fifty years on, the job is now done, the delay reflecting the overwhelming task of charting the world’s plants. Isoglossa variegata is one of more than 100 new species from East Africa and southern tropical Africa and is part of a major commitment by Kew, initiated some 50 years ago, to document the flora from this area in two major projects, the Flora of Tropical East Africa and Flora Zambesiaca. These great works, which document around 12,500 and 10,000 species respectively, are now nearing completion.

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