Dec 22 2022
Every year, botanists describe hundreds of new plant, algal, fungal, and lichen species from across the Earth. Many of these newly described species come from the tropics of South America and Asia, but new species are also described from otherwise well-known floras such as eastern North America. In 2022, NYBG Science Curators described 36 species and 3 genera as new to Western science!
Systematics is the science of classifying biodiversity. Important in its own right, systematics also directly impacts conservation: we cannot conserve a species if we do not recognize it as distinct and do not have a name for it. A 2010 paper estimated there are approximately 70,000 plant species that remain to be described, and that natural history collections such as the William and Lynda Steere Herbarium are a primary source for finding new species. NYBG is a global leader in systematics and biodiversity science, and many of the species we describe face acute conservation concerns.
Enjoy these stories about the new species NYBG Science Curators described in 2022!
Agapetes oligodonta. A tropical epiphytic relative of the blueberry, Agapetes oligodonta is endemic to a small area of the Babulongtan mountain range in northern Myanmar. Within Myanmar, the northern state of Kachin is a species-rich hot spot for Agapetes diversity, with at least 50 known species.
Allobeuron trinervium. The unusual intermediate leaf vennation of this new species bridges the acrodromous venation pattern that is characteristic of most Melastomataceae, with the more unusual pinnate venation that is otherwise predominant in the genus Alloneuron. Acrodromous venation occurs where two or more primary veins arch upward from the leaf base (like the tines of a fork); pinnate venation occurs where there is only one central primary vein and the secondary veins only arise from it (like a feather).
Ceratozamia oliversacksii. Endemic to Oaxaca, Mexcio, Ceratozamia oliversacksii honors Oliver Sacks (1933-2015), who loved cycads and was a distinguished British-American neurologist and historian of science. A best-selling author, Sacks published The Island of the Colorblind and Cycad Island, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and many others.
Ceratozamia osbornei. A new species of cycad from Belize, Ceratozamia osbornei is extremely rare, being endemic to a small area of the central Maya Mountains. Like all endangered and vulnerable species, Ceratomazia osbornei is protected by the CITES treaty.
Garcinia yaatapsap. A newly described endangered species that is endemic to northern Myamnar, this species is used by local communities to make a tea as a tonic for repairing a damaged liver due to drinking excess alcohol. The specific epithet “yaatapsap” is the Shan-Ni vernacular name for the plant, which translates as “medicine to join the liver [back together]”.
Gibellula aurea. Fungi are the major recyclers of biomass, decomposing all biotic material from animals to plants in every environment, from the arctic to the tropics and deserts, and from the canopies of trees to the ocean. Some fungi, such as the newly described golden-orange Gibellula aurea, first parasitize their hosts before they consume and decompose them. In this case, Gibellula aurea attacks spiders.
Gretheria. Although new species are regularly described, it is uncommon to describe a new genus. A genus is a grouping of related species, and is a taxonomic rank in-between family and species. The name for this new genus of tropical American legumes honours Rosaura Grether González, an extraordinary and prolific Mexican botanist. Her profound dedication and commitment to botanical research over decades has made important contributions to our understanding of the legume family, especially the genus Mimosa.
Halecania robertcurtsii. Lichens are mutualistic organisms formed by fungi and algae or cyanobacteria. The full species diversity of lichens in North America is still unknown, as lichens have been long overlooked and understudied due to their cryptic nature. The co-description of Halecania robertcurtisii from the Ohio River Valley by a undergraduate lichenologist highlights the need to continue explore even ‘well-known’ areas. This species is named for the co-author's father, a well-known regional botanist.
Harringtonia ambrosioides. This new species of Laurel Wilt fungus is named for the large number of ambrosial cells that it produces. These cells serve as food for the ambrosia beetle, which are the insect vectors of this fungus. Symbiosis between beetles and fungi arose multiple times during the evolution of both organisms. Some of the most biologically diverse and economically important are mutualisms in which the beetles cultivate and feed on fungi, and then spread them to affected plants.
Harringtonia arthroconidialis. This new species of Laurel Wilt fungus was recently collected from the Tropical Research and Education Center in Miami Florida.
Harringtonia chlamydospora. A large number of plant diseases are caused by fungi; thus it is extremely important to have a full understanding of the fungi involved in causing disease so better treatment programs can be devised, especially in a disease like Laurel Wilt, which is a major disease of avocados, sassafras, and their relatives. Fortunately, these newly described species of Harringtonia do not appear to cause disease.
Harringtonia sporodochialis. This new beetle associated fungus in the Laurel Wilt genus was collected from a yellow heartwood tree in Belize, which is a relative of citrus.
Herpothallon rubrogranulosum. A new endemic lichen from the Southeastern Coastal Plain Biodiversity Hotspot, Herpothallon rubrogranulosum forms large reddish-orange-pink colonies on hardwood and cypress trees in swamp forests that are threatened by numerous forces.
Inocybe panamica. Most mushroom forming fungi form intimate mycorrhizal relationships with trees and other plants. In the fungal genus Inocybe, differentiation and specialization on different types of host trees appears to be a major driver of differentiation between fungal species. One of the major features that distinguishes the newly described Inocybe panamica is it's mycorrhizal relations with Quercus (oaks) and/or Oreomunnea (relatives of the walnut) in Central America.
Inocybe velicopa. Just because a species is described as new, does not mean it is always rare. Such is the case with Inocybe velicopia, which is found from New York and Wisconsin south to Costa Rica. This new species grows in association with Quercus and Castanea (oaks and chestnuts), including high elevation and lowland tropical areas.
Lanonia honbaensis. NYBG Curator Emeritus Andrew Henderson is a world authority on palms. Lanonia honbaensis and the following 5 species were all recently described as part of Andrew's monographic work on the genus Lanonia, including extensive herbarium research and fieldwork in southeast Asia. This new species has has elaborate glandular hairs on the margins of the bracts under the flowers or flower clusters.
Lanonia honheoensis. Named for Hon Heo peninsula, Vietnam, the palm Lanonia honheoensis is endemic to this area. Like many palms, L. honheoensis has sharp spines along the leaf petiole.
Lanonia kontumensis. Long confused with a much more common species in north-central Vietnam, Lanonia kontumensis is a much rarer species, currently only known from 3 sites in south-central Vietnam.
Lanonia montana. This new palm is very rare, only known from a few sites in southern Vietnam. The species name "montana" is Latin for mountain, refering to its mountanous habitat.
Lanonia nuichuaensis. Only known from 4 specimens collected from southern Vietnam, the name "nuichuaensis" honors Nui Chua National Park, to which this rare species is endemic.
Lanonia tenuisecta. Long confused with a more common look-alike species, this very rare species is only known from a site in southern Vietnam.
Meriania bicentenaria. This new species has a very restricted distribution in central Peru, but it is locally common. Despite growing in an area that has been well-collected, it has been only recently that flowering material was available for it to be described. It highlights the difficulty of documenting tall trees in cloud forests. NYBG Curator Fabián Michelangeli is a word authroty on the Melastomataceae family; this and the following 8 species all result from recent exploration and herbarium work focused on the Andes of South America.
Meriania bongarana. This new and extremely rare species is a single site endemic, meaning it is known from just one location. Meriania bongarana was only collected for the first time only in 2020 by a team of Peruvian botanists, highlighting the need to continually explore and protect new areas of tropical mountain systems. Given its rarity, Meriania bongarana is listed as Critically Endangered.
Meriania callosa. Resricted to a narrow region of the Andes mountains in norh-central Peru, Meriania callosa has beautiful large purple flowers.
Meriania escalerensis. This new and extremely rare species is a single site endemic, resticted to elfin forests on high-elevation summits of the Cordillera Escalera, in north-central Peru. Only collected for the first time in 2013, Meriania escalerensis is threatened by highway expansion and gas and petroleum exploration and production; thus, it is listed as Critically Endangered.
Meriania hirsuta. The Amotape-Huancabamba zone of the Peruvian Andes is a biodiversity hotspot for Melastomataceae with very small ranges, including Meriania hirsuta. This Critically Endangered species has only been collected twice from a highly disturbed area that is threatened by cattle grazing and logging. The species name "hirsuta" refers to the dense covering of hairs on the leaves and flowers.
Meriania juanjil. Known from a single collection made 60 years ago, this Critically Endangered new species may already be extinct, as efforts in the last few years to re-locate it have been unsuccesful. Although it was collected 60 years ago, Meriania juanjil is only being described now thanks to an improved understanding of the genus, as increased exploration and herbarium study has led to a better understanding of its close relatives. The specific epithet "juanjil" refers to the name applied by local people in Bongará to the entire family Melastomataceae.
Meriania megaphylla. Only known from a single site in north-central Peru, this Critically Endangered new species has been collected only once over 100 years ago, and it may be extinct as recent efforts years to re-locate it have been unsuccesful. Although it was collected long ago, Meriania megaphylla is only being described now thanks to an improved understanding of the genus, as increased exploration and herbarium study has lead to a better understanding of its close relatives.
Meriania sumatika. Machu Pichu is perhaps one of the most famous sites in the world, and the area surrounding it has been well-documented. Yet this new species from Machu Pichu remained hidden because botanists have rarely seen it bloom, and its habit and leaves are almost undistinguishable from a widespread look-alike; the flowers were key to telling this species apart from other members of Meriania. The species name comes from the local Quechua “sumaq” (beautiful) and “tika” (flower), referring to large showy flowers of this species.
Meriania vasquezii. Low population densities and unpredictable flowering makes documenting plants from high-elevation cloud forest extremely difficult. Meriania vasquezii is one such example, as it is a single site endemic that was collected for the first time only recently, in spite of growing in an well-collected area.
Myanmaranthus roseiflorus. Although new species are regularly described, it is uncommon to describe a new genus. A genus is a grouping of related species, and is a taxonomic rank in-between family and species. Myanmaranthus is named for Myanmar, the country to which this rare new genus and species is endemic, and the suffix "anthus" means flower in Latin.
Plagiothecium imbricatum. Integrated study of herbarium specimens, botnaical literature, and evaluation of evolutionary history by comparing genetic relationships have lead to several new species of moss to be described, including Plagiothecium imbricatum. This new species is typically found in European beech forests, although one population also occurs on the opposite side of the world in British Columbia, Canada!
Plagiothecium talbotii. This rare new moss is only known from the small Aleutian Island of Attu in the Bearing Sea. It is named in honor of Stephen S. Talbot, who spent decades studying the northern regions of North America with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, including the Aleutian Islands and who, with Wilfred B. Schofield, collected the only know specimens in 2002.
Ricoa. Although new species are regularly described, it is uncommon to describe a new genus. A genus is a grouping of related species, and is a taxonomic rank in-between family and species. This new Mexican legume genus honors María Lourdes Rico, whose profound dedication and commitment to botanical research over decades has deeply enhanced scientific understanding of the legume family, especially the tribe Ingeae.
Rhynchospora stiletto. This new species of beaksedge occurs in fens, wet prairies, and scoured riverside limestone outcrops. It is known from only four states in the southeastern US and a total of seven populations. Discovery and description of Rhynchospora stiletto resulted from collaboration of NYBG curator Rob Naczi with Claire Ciafre, then a graduate student at Austin Peay State University (Tennessee). This species is quite disinctive in the relatively long, dagger-like style base on its fruit summit, hence the name stiletto.
Staurogyne filisepala. This rare species is only known from single location in northern Myanmar. Interestingly, the only known specimen lacks well-preserved flowers. Although plants are typically described only when good flowering or fruiting material is available, other characters easily distinguish S. filisepala as distinct. Additionally, few, if any, other botanists have collected in and around Htamanthi Wildlife Sanctuary, and the current political situation in Myanmar makes it unlikely that botanical research will resume in the region for many years. Thus, it is best to advance our understand of regional biodiversity, even if it is still imperfectly known.
Staurogyne yamokmehong. This new medicinal species from the mountains of northern Myanmar was described using the local Shan-Ni name for this plant: "yaa-mawk-ma-hong." Traditional uses of S. yamokmehong include menstrual and reproductive health, and as treatments for inflammation, edema, jaundice, an enlarged spleen (caused by anemia), and digestive disorders. The plant is either used in isolation or in combination with other herbs to make a tea which is drunk by the person seeking care.
Strobilanthes hians. The large gaping white flowers with prominent stamens of Strobilanthis hians immediately distinguish this new species from all other members of the genus. Only known from a single site in northern Myanmar near the border with India, this species was collected from a patch of remnant forest in an area that was otherwise disturbed by slash and burn agriculture. The only known location of this very rare species is thus highly vulnerable to encroachment in the near future. A name is hopefully the first step to conservation.