Not only is this a great achievement in its own right (documenting global plant and fungal diversity is a strategic priority for Kew) but the benefits of these new species could be huge. With potentially new chemical properties and other important characteristics, these species could contribute to new medicines, crops and essential oils, or be important in their resilience to environmental change.
In Brazil, more than 20 new species from the myrtle family (Myrtaceae) were discovered, which have the potential to be used in the pharmaceutical industry as diuretics or antiseptics. The new species are all found in the Mata Atlantica (Atlantic Rainforest), a vegetation type even more threatened than the Amazon rainforest, and can be important ecological indicators of the health of the forest.
In Bolivia a new type of sweet potato from the Ipomoea genus (Convolvulaceae family) was discovered. This new species could be used to create disease-resistant varieties of sweet potato if cross-bred with commercial species.
New discoveries in Malaysia and Indonesia include relatives of the custard apple, or sugar apple, and ylang-ylang – which could be of interest commercially.
The heavy-weight discoveries include Gilbertiodendron maximum, a tree endemic to Gabon which can grow up to 45 metres high, and Selenipedium dodsoniia a three-metre slipper orchid from Ecuador.
Amongst the new fungal discoveries are five new species which may have symbiotic relationships with conifers and were discovered in Europe and North America.
2015 was a fantastic year for Kew Science: discovering and collecting new species and exploring their evolutionary relationships, uses and conservation. 2016 promises to be an even more prolific year, as Kew scientists push the frontiers of discovery and continue to work towards an exciting scientific strategy and vision.