Plant Cuttings

Reasons to be cheerful (Parts, 4…)

Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Backward-looking retrospectives [is there any other kind? – Ed.] are great. And that from the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University is one of the best. Annually, it publishes its list of the Top 10 new species discovered in the preceding year. Whilst this column has previously bemoaned the paucity of plant-based entrants in prior year’s lists, it is pleased to share news that there are four botanical worthies in the 2012 listing. And the list’s pedigree is unimpeachable because the committee members – who pick the ten – were ‘free to use any criteria they wished, keeping in mind the purpose of the Top 10 is to draw attention to biodiversity and the science and institutions engaged in its exploration. They were also encouraged to pay attention to taxonomic, geographic, and natural history diversity’. Their Top 10 includes Viola lilliputana, known from a single locality in the dry puna grassland ecoregion in the Peruvian Andes. At barely 1 cm (10 000 µm!) tall, the Lilliputian violet is a tiny miracle of nature and hard to spot, which may help to protect it from the over-zealous attentions of ‘collectors’ and agriculturalists who have all but extirpated the African violet from the wild. Also in the list is Eugenia petrikensis from Madagascar, whose uniqueness is ‘its rare occurrence, a large shrub with its beautiful bunch of flowers hanging on its branchlets’. However, I think it’s there because its leaf venation is brochidodromous*. Also in the list is Ochroconis lascauxensis which was isolated from ‘black stains’ in the Lascaux Caves in south-western France. Yes, I know it’s not a plant – it’s a fungus – but since fungi are non-animals, that’s good enough for this column (and, anyway, fungi are covered by the same ‘taxonomic code’ as plants; so, Botanists: 3, Others: 0, I think!). Finally – and I know all true botanists will appreciate this – also claimed for us chlorophytes is Juracimbrophlebia ginkgofolia, a new fossil species – a ‘hanging-fly’ – from Middle Jurassic deposits in the Jiulongshan Formation (in China’s Inner Mongolia). Yes, I know it’s an insect, but it was found with preserved leaves of a ginkgo-like tree, Yimaia capituliformis (presumably not Y. juracimbrophlebia-similiformis since I expect the plant was named first…), which it looks remarkably similar to (hence its specific epithet…)! What, an insect that wants to be a plant? How cool is that! And therefore thoroughly deserving of the honorary plant status I’m happy to accord it. What of the other organisms in the 2012 Top 10? Just some animals – sorry. However, what about a ‘spective’? A look-forward, where we second-guess the weirdest organisms we can imagine being discovered in 2013 (or beyond). What sort of plants would you propose? But if a single year’s list is too tame for you, you might like to know that the RHS’s (the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society) Plant of the Centenary is Geranium Rozanne (‘Gerwat’).

[* This sounds much more impressive than it is; brochidodromous venation means that ‘with a single primary vein, the secondary veins not terminating at the margin but joined together in a series of prominent upward arches or marginal loops on each side of the primary vein’, i.e. second-order veins are joined (there’s a good diagram thereof in Fig. 2A of Anita Roth-Nebelsick et al.’s 2001 review of the evolution and function of leaf venation architecture). And, yes, I know Saintpaulia isn’t a true violet, but it’s ‘literary licence’; so, no letters telling Mr P. Cuttings off, please! – Ed.]

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