Kew Gardens discovers new plant species in own glasshouse


Isoglossa variegata was discovered in the Princess of Wales Conservatory at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Photograph: RBG Kew

From British daily The Guardian:

Kew discovers new plant species in one of its own glasshouses

Botanists at Kew unveil a bumper crop of new plant species for 2009 including one that had been growing under their noses for 50 years

* Ian Sample, science correspondent
* Tuesday 22 December 2009 00.00 GMT

The quest to catalogue Earth’s rich flora has taken botanists to the farthest flung and most treacherous corners of the world, from the humid rainforests of the Amazon to the highest peaks of Borneo.

Which made it all the more surprising when Iain Darbyshire stumbled upon a species of plant unknown to science while taking a lunchtime stroll around the Royal Botanic Gardens in west London.

Darbyshire, an expert in African botany at Kew, happened upon the foot-tall plant in full bloom, its striking green and grey heart-shaped leaves set off by tiny white and pink flowers.

“I just happened to take a different route through the glasshouse that lunchtime and stumbled across it,” Darbyshire told the Guardian. “I knew instantly that it was a new species. It was just sat there waiting for someone to study it.”

Record books revealed the plants had been donated by Swedish botanists in the 1990s after an expedition to the Eastern Arc mountains of Tanzania. Unsuspecting gardeners had tended them for more than a decade, using them as tropical bedding in Kew’s Princess of Wales Conservatory.

The plant was officially named Isoglossa variegata last month and is among more than 250 new plant and fungus species discovered and described by the gardens’ botanists in the past year.

Giant rainforest trees, tiny fungi and wild coffee plants are among almost 300 species that have been described by UK botanists for the first time in 2009: here. And here.

Kew Gardens, London, recently invited New Scientist to take a look at its internationally renowned conservation, classification and research work: here.

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