NYBG 2023 New Species Review!

By Matthew C. Pace

Dec 21 2023

Every year, botanists describe hundreds of new plants, algae, fungi, and lichens 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 North America. In 2023, NYBG Science Curators described 22 species and 5 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 2023!

Alexa duckeana. This new tree species was described from the highly threatened Amazon rainforest-cerrado transitional zone in Brazil, by Ben Torke and collaborators, and the publication was led by former visiting doctoral student Guilherme Sousa. Alexa is a mainly bat-pollinated genus of trees in the legume family.

Boyania kenwurdackii. Unfortunately, many newly described species face acute conservation concerns. For example, most of the specimens used to describe Boyania kenwurdackii were collected in an area that was being surveyed for a future dam project. This is the third species for a rarely collected Melastome genus found in the Guiana Shield. This species name honors botanist Ken Wurdack. Ken's father, John Wurdacki described the genus Boyania in 1964, in the journal Memoirs of The New York Botanical Garden.

Cabari. A genus is a group of related species. A molecular phylogenetic analysis strongly suggests that the Amazonian tree genus Clathrotropis forms three distinct lineages. One of these, comprising four species, was described as a new genus: Cabari. It contains ecologically hyperdominant species and is characterized by elastically dehiscent fruits, among other features.

Campylopus steerei. This new species of Andean moss is named in honor of former NYBG President and bryologist, William C. Steere (1907–1989). Steere served as the Garden’s Director and President from 1958–1972. His research focused on the mosses of Arctic North America and Greenland.

Coccothrinax bonnettiana. Curator Emeritus Andrew Henderson is a world authority on palms, and has published many authoritative treatments of palm genera. Working with colleagues from the Dominican Republic and Sweden, they recently described the five following new species of Coccothrinax. All of these new species are narrowly distributed in Hispaniola and all are threatened. Andrew and his colleagues are actively engaged in ex-situ and in-situ conservation efforts.

Coccothrinax gonaivensis. This rare new palm is known from a single location in Haiti. The type specimen was collected in 1985 by NYBG Collections Manager Emeritus Thomas Zanoni.

Coccothrinax landestoyii. This new palm has very slender segments to its leaves, giving it a very graceful appearance. It is endemic to a single site in The Dominican Republic.

Coccothrinax montgomeryana. NYBG has one of the greatest collections of Caribbean plants, allowing for in-depth study of this biodiversity hotspot. This new palm is closely related to the other new palm species mentioned here from Haiti and The Dominican Republic.

Coccothrinax samanensis. This new palm displays extremely tall and slender stems that often curl and loop. The species name samanensis indicates this species' endemism to the Samaná Península of The Dominican Republic.

Cycadodendron galtieri. Just like dinosaurs, species of long extinct plants are described from fossils. Cycadodendron galtieri is a new extinct genus and species of cycad, and it is the oldest-known evidence of cycad anatomy. Cycads look like palms, but are more closely related to pines. Combined with other fossil cycads, this new species helps to demonstrate the early evolution of various cycad-specific anatomical features in the lower Permian (ca. 299–252 million years ago).

Cyrtocarpa caribaea. Herbaria remain rich grounds for the discovery of new species. Sometimes, these new species wait decades between the time they were first collected and when they are recognized and described as new. Such was the case with Cyrtocarpa caribaea: it was collected in Colombia in 1965, but was not described until 2023. In an added complication, the only known specimen was originally misidentified as belonging to an entirely different plant family! 

Gaultheria natmataungensis. You may know the genus Gaultheria from its North American representative, "wintergreen" (G. procumbens). This new species is a relative from Myanmar, which is endemic to Natmataung ("spirit mountain"), also known as Mount Victoria, in Chin State, the mountainous region bordering Bangladesh and India. The specific epithet refers to this location in Myanmar.  It was collected as part of a long-running botanical inventory of Natmataung National Park by colleagues from Makino Botanical Garden in Japan.

Kgaria similis. Kgaria is a new Australian fungal genus in the family of mushrooms that also includes porcine. The genus name is derived from the Butchulla (Badjala) Traditional Landowners’ name “K’gari” (pronounced gurri, which translates to ‘paradise’), for Fraser Island, Australia, the world’s largest sand island and a UNESCO designated World Heritage Area. This new genus includes two species, including the newly described species K. similis.

Miconia burkeae. This is a new dioecious species of Miconia known only from cloud forest in the southwestern Andean slopes of Cusco, Peru. Dioecious plants are those that have pisitillate 'female' and staminate 'male' flowers appearing on separate plants. This species was named to honor former NYBG postdoc Janelle Burke, who is now a professor of biology at Howard University.

Miconia dianae. This is a new species of Miconia endemic to southern Bahia, Brazil. It is remarkable for its green petals and verrucose (wart-like) projections in the hypanthium (base of the flower). This species is only known from a fragment of semi-deciduous forest, a relatively rare habitat for this genus.

Polygonatum bifolium. This new species is an unusual member of the "Solomon's seal" genus, Polygonatum, endemic to the Himalayan region of northern Myanmar. The species is epiphytic, growing in moss on tree trunks and branches at 1516–2457 m elevation. It is unique within the genus in having just two (occasionally three) leaves, and thus, the specific epithet "bifolium" is a nod to this distinctive character state.

Pterolepis xaxa. The only known population of this new species is in a non-protected area threatened by illegal amethyst mining. As with many new species, our fully understanding of tropical biodiversity is threatened by human-induced conservation issues. This new species has haplostemonous flowers (the stamens equal in number to the petals), an unusual condition within the family Melastoamataceae.

Protium herisonii. The only known collection of Protium herisonii was discovered during a tree identification course offered in Jamari National Forest, Rondônia, Brazil. The participants included field personnel from the three forest concessions, the Rondônia-based conservation organization Rio Terra, and the municipal tree nursery of Itapuã do Oeste. Such training courses serve to improve forest management via more accurate identifications, empower local communities in Amazonia with skills and knowledge of their forests, and strengthen the research relationships between NYBG and Brazilian colleagues. These courses also contribute collections to our baseline knowledge of the Amazon flora, P. herisonii being a case in point.

Protium inversum. This new species was published in collaboration with Bronx High School of Science intern Vera Pankevich as a co-author. Protium inversum adds yet another new species to a growing list of recently revealed montane Andean protiums. Its obovoid fruits are unique in the genus, and it is one of a very few protiums with a red (vs. white) arillate structure surrounding the stone. 

Rhynchospora mesoatlantica. This new beaksedge is restricted to a small area in the Mid-Atlantic region of North America. Small population sizes, multiple threats, and ongoing declines suggest this new species is Endangered and Critically Imperiled. Research on R. mesoatlantica contributed to training a new generation of plant conservationists since the first author's M.S. thesis was based in part on studying this plant. Publication of Rhynchospora mesoatlantica also resolves long-standing confusion between two other, more common beaksedge species. 

Schadonia saulskellyana. Lichens are symbiotic organisms formed between fungi, algae, and cyanobacteria. This new lichen from the southern Appalachian Mountains appears to be endemic to the region and mostly restricted to the bark of conifers. It is particularly abundant and frequent in the imperiled high-elevation spruce-fir forests of the region.

Stylosanthes acicularis. This is a new species known from a single collection from Chapada das Mesas National Park in the state of Maranhão, northeastern Brazil. It was collected in cerrado vegetation, which is one of the most threatened habitats in Brazil. It is quite distinct and differs from related species in multiple morphological characteristics. NYBG curator Ben Torke mentored Danilo Gissi, a doctoral student at São Paulo State University (now graduated) and the first author on the publication and new species name, during an extended "sandwich" study at NYBG.

Truongsonia lecongkietii. Andrew Henderson and colleagues from Vietnam, the UK, and Denmark describe a new tribe, genus, and species of palm from Vietnam. The new palm occurs in a very small area in central Vietnam, yet molecular data shows it to be most closely related to a West African genus, Podococcus, making this an extraordinary discovery!

Tumultivenia. Cyrtocarpa is a genus name that has been applied to members of a complex of dry-habitat Neotropical trees in the cashew family, but recent investigations have revealed that in fact this group represents three distinct genera: Cyrtocarpa, and the newly described Tumultivenia, and UniostiumTumultivenia caatingae is a tree found mostly in thorn-scrub or tropical dry forest (caatinga) in the Brazilian states of Bahia, Goiás, and Minas Gerais. It is distinguished from similar genera by the conspicuous pistillode that is taller than the disk, mature fruits that are wine-colored to blackish, and several technical characters related to the seed and ovary.

Uniostium. Cyrtocarpa is a genus name that has been applied to members of a complex of dry-habitat Neotropical trees in the cashew family, but recent investigations have revealed that in fact this group represents three distinct genera: Cyrtocarpa, and the newly described Tumultivenia, and Uniostium. Uniostium is distinguished from these other genera by the long hairs on the leaflets, long secondary axes of staminate inflorescences, mature fruits that are red to reddish purple, and several technical characters of the stamens in the flowers. The species U. velutinifolium is a common tree in Brazil, northeastern Colombia, Curaçao, Guyana, and Venezuela. It grows in granitic outcrops, savannas, and (semi-)deciduous forests. 

This research has been made possible by the following grants: National Science Foundation (7721495, 7921130, 2140319, 0629817, 0414665, 1020421, 14577028607049), USDA (2005-38820-16378), and National Geographic Society (8457-08).


Allen, B., and W.R. Buck. 2023. Campylopus steerei (Dicranaceae), a new paraleucobryoid species from South American Páramos. Acta Biologica Plantarum Agriensis 11: 56–67 DOI: 10.21406/abpa.2023.11.1.56  

Angulo, J.C., and F.A. Michelangeli. Miconia burkeae (Melastomataceae), a new dioecious tree from the montane forests of the Peruvian Andes. Brittonia 75: 411–418 DOI: 10.1007/s12228-023-09759-7

Daly, D.C. 2023. A rare new species of Protium from Rondônia, Brazil. Studies in Neotropical Burseraceae XXXI. Brittonia 75: 210–214 DOI: doi.org/10.1007/s12228-023-09749-9

Daly, D.C., and V. Pankevich. 2023. A new montane species of Protium (Burseraceae) from Ecuador and Peru. Studies in neotropical Burseraceae XXXII. Brittonia 75: 434–439 DOI: 10.1007/s12228-023-09761-z

Floden, A., T.Y. Nwe, and K.E. Armstong. 2023. A New Polygonatum, P. bifolium species (Asparagaceae: Nolinoideae: Polygonateae) from Myanmar and a Checklist of the Species Known to Occur There. Novon 31 DOI: https://doi.org/10.3417/2023833

Fritsch, P.W., K.E. Armstrong, M.M. Aung, K. Fujikawa, and L. Lu. 2023. Gaultheria (Ericaceae) of Myanmar: an updated species list for the country, a new species, and a new species combination. Phytotaxa 595: 37–61 DOI: 10.11646/phytotaxa.595.1.3

Gissi, D.S., B.M. Torke, M. Tomazello-Filho, and A.P. Fortna-Perez. 2023. A new species of Stylosanthes (Leguminosae – Papilionoideae) from the Chapada das Mesas National Park in Maranhão, Brazil. Brittonia 75, 191–201 DOI: 10.1007/s12228-022-09724-w

Goldberg, R., J.C. de Jesus, N. Roque, and F.A. Michelangeli. 2023. Pterolepis xaxa (Melastomateae, Melastomataceae), a new haplostemonous species from Bahia, Brazil. Brittonia 73: 300–306 DOI: 10.1007/s12228-023-09747-x

Goldenberg, R., F.A. Michelangeli, J.K. Ziemmer, and A.M. Amorim. 2023. Miconia dianae (Melastomataceae), a new species from Bahia (Brazil) with notes on leaf and hypanthium surfaces. Brazilian Journal of Botany 46: 913–923 (2023). DOI: 10.1007/s40415-023-00932-6

Halling, R.E., N.A. Fecher, G. Holmes, N. Davoodian. 2023. Kgaria (Boletaceae, Boletoideae) gen. nov. in Australia: Neither a Tylopilus nor a Porphyrellus. Fungal Systematics and Evolution 12: 31–45 DOI: 10.3114/fuse.2023.12.02

Henderson, A. 2023. A revision of Coccothrinax, Hemithrinax, Leucothrinax, Thrinax, and Zombia (Arecaceae). Phytotaxa 614: 1–115 DOI: 10.11646/phytotaxa.614.1.1

Lendemer, J.C., and J.P. Hollinger. 2023. Schadonia saulskellyana (Pilocarpaceae; Lichenized Ascomycetes) an unusual new species endemic to the southern Appalachian Mountains of eastern North America. The Bryologist 126:111–128 DOI: 10.1639/0007-2745-126.1.111

Luthardt, L., R. Rößler, and D. Stevenson. 2023. Cycadodendron galtieri gen. nov. et sp. nov.: An Early Permian Gymnosperm Stem with Cycadalean Affinity. International Journal of Plant Sciences 715–732 DOI: 10.1086/727458

Michelangeli, F. 2023. A new species of Boyania (Melastomataceae) from Guyana. Rheedea 32 DOI: dx.doi.org/10.22244/rheedea.2022.32.04.04

Mitchell, J.D., D.C. Daly, L. Calvillo-Candell, and R.O. Perdiz. 2023. Two new genera and a new species of Anacardiaceae from northern South America. Brittonia 75: 440–457 DOI: 10.1007/s12228-023-09760-0

Sousa d Silva, G., B.M. Torke, V. de Freitas Mansano. 2023. Alexa duckeana (Leguminosae-Papilionoideae): a new species from the Brazilian Amazon. Phytotaxa 629: 255–265 DOI: 10.11646/phytotaxa.629.3.7

Treher, E.A., and R.F.C. Naczi. 2023. Rhynchospora mesoatlantica (Cyperaceae), an imperiled new species of beaksedge from eastern U.S.A. PhytoKeys 236: 65–81. DOI: 10.3897/phytokeys.236.111271