The Koukoutamba falls, Guinea
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Top 13 species discovered in 2018

From an 'edible hedgehog' to a flower revealed by rainfall, our scientists and partners have discovered over 170 brand new species in 2018.
Date: 
17 December 2018
Blog team: 
Author: 
Meryl Westlake and Heather McLeod

What a year!

At Kew, we are passionate about plant and fungal science. 

Every year, our partners and scientists venture into deserts, rainforests, woodlands and mountains to learn and explore the natural world, hoping to unlock the potential of the plants and fungi that grow there. 

This year, we discovered around 128 vascular plants and 44 species of fungi from the Americas, Asia, Africa and beyond. Many of these plants are already under threat of extinction

We've picked the top 13 just for you; showcasing the plants or fungi that could lead to new medicines, materials or foods. 


A scientist scales a dramatic hillside in Boyaca, Cololmbia on a Kew expedition

2018 in 13 plants

Rescued from the black market

A showy slipper orchid was discovered on the black market in Laos. Paphiopedilum papilio-laoticus is just one of many new species threated by international demand for illegally collected native plants. 

By identifying and registering plants on the Red List, Kew is battling illegal trade. We also work on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Paphiopedilum papili orchid

Banking on the plant

Four new species from the largest plant family, Orchidaceae, were also discovered, including Bulbophyllum adolinae in New Guinea.

The local Indonesian bank, Bank Negara Indonesia, will celebrate with an image of the orchid on their new bank cards.

Bulbophyllum adolinae orchid

Waterfall wonder in danger

Found in a waterfall in Sewa River rapids, Sierra Leone, the Lebbiea grandiflora  was immediately classified as 'Critically Endangered' due to threats from mining and a local hydro-electric project.

It's possible that this new genus will be extinct in the next two years. Kew's botanists plan to travel to other locations, like Guinea, to search for the plant in the wild and collect seeds to bank in the Millennium Seed Bank. 

Lebbiea grandiflora

Festive allspice in the Caribbean

The festive and tasty Allspice genus welcomed a new species, Pimenta berciliaeThe new tree can be found only on northern mountains of Hispaniola, in the Caribbean

It's part of the incredibly diverse Myrtaceae family, giving more fruit biomass to birds and mammals than any other family. 

Pimenta berciliae

Rainfall reveals rare plant

Heavy rainfall revealed the rare Ipomoea prolifera after the water caused the plants to burst into flower!

Found in Bolivia, it joins a long list of rare and endemic species in the inter-Andean valley region. 

Ipomoea prolifera

Hidden at a great height

Another Ipomoea genus was found on an extremely steep-sided Andean slope in Bolivia, covered by a moist cloud forest. 

Impomoea inaccessa is a vigorous flowering vine, climbing at least 15 metres over forest trees. It was only reachable when trees had fallen down besides landslides. 

Ipomoea inaccessa

Edible hedgehog mushroom

A new fungus, Hydnum melitosarx (Cantharellales) is one of 22 new species of Hydnum - a.k.a. 'hedgehog mushrooms.'

Many of these mushrooms are thought to be edible, and get their nickname because their spores are borne on 'teeth' rather than gills.

Hydnym melitosarx mushroom

Matched by a photo

The 'Vulnerable' Dioscorea hurteri was discovered via a photograph sent to a Kew scientist 15 years ago.

It was only in 2018 that the team matched the photo to specimens in Kew's herbarium and could describe the species.

climbing yam, this new discovery belongs to the crop that feeds millions of people around the world; a plant with huge medicinal value (the first birth control pills were derived from yams). Who knows what other medicinal properties lay inside...

Dioscorea hurtii

Future cancer-beater?

The Kindia gangan was seen growing on high sandstone cliffs in Guinea. This year, Kew scientist Melanie-Jayne Howes found the white, bell-shaped flowers have a bright orange pollen that contains over 40 different triterpenoids, a chemical that is known for having anti-cancer properties.

This plant might be a life saver. DNA studies reveal that is both a new species and a new genus to science, so conservation action is vital. 

Kindia gangan

Insect-trapping Indonesian beauty

A climbing plant that traps and digest insects in its pitchers, the Nepenthes biak now lives behind-the-scenes in Kew's Tropical Nursery. 

Unique to Biak island off the coast of Indonesian New Guinea, the plant lives in trees and mainly traps cockroaches. 

Nepenthes biak

An orange surprise

The beautiful orange Oreocharis tribracteata was found in northern Vietnam in 2014.

It wasn't until it flowered in the UK that botanists found it was actually a new species, with three (rather than two) bracts in the inflorescence, combined with it's colour and heart-shaped leaves

Oreocharis tribracteata

A GIANT discovery!

A giant 24 metre rainforest tree was discovered in coastal Guinea. 

Talbotiella cheekii is a huge canopy rainforest tree, whose trunk reaches 83cm in diameter, with shocking pink flowers and explosive seed pods. Worryingly, the tree is under threat from rainforest clearance.

Talbotiella cheekii flowers

Gone, but not forgotten

Sadly, Vepris bali became extinct before it had even been named.

The species was first collected by Edin Ujor in Cameroon1951 and has not been seen since. The region is under huge pressure of tree cutting and clearing for agriculture.  It is thought that the plant has already gone extinct and was only named this year, despite efforts to find it in the wild.  

A sketch of the now-thought to be extinct Vepris Bali

Partnership is vital

Discovering and describing new species is a vital scientific endeavour. By learning more, we can better understand their uses, and if they hold solutions to the critical challenges facing humanity today.

We couldn't make these strides without the dedication, support and expertise of our partners around the world. 

Find out how you can support our science

Kew scientists and students at work in Madagascan forest


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