Despite a history of more than 40,000 years on the planet, science is still discovering new species.
Under the spotlight this year are a series of fascinating discoveries at London’s world famous Kew Gardens – which besides being a repository for thousands of plants and trees, is also a leading botanical research centre.
In just 12 months, researchers catalogued 102 new plants and eight fungi from around the world.
Many were from Africa and threatened with extinction as governments push back natural boundaries to find land for homes, industry and mining.
A miracle berry was found in the lowland rainforests of the Chimanimani Mountains on the Mozambique – Zimbabwe border in Africa.
Synsepalum chimanimani is slightly sweet to taste, but contains a compound called miraculin that blocks the taste buds, so sour foods, like limes, taste sweet when eaten.
The plant grows into a small tree, about four metres high, with glossy, evergreen leaves in small bunches. The twigs exude white rubbery latex when cut. Fewer than 40 species are known, all from tropical African forests.
“The new species has been assessed as ‘endangered’ as it’s only known to exist in three locations, all of which are under threat from deforestation for agriculture,” said Kew’s Dr Martin Cheek.
Another discovery is a medicinal fungus known in China for over 400 years.
“Zhuhongjun is now formally named Rubroshiraia bambusae, and is a genus, as well as a species previously unknown to science,” said Cheek.
“Native to Yunnan in South West China, it grows on a species of bamboo forming pink, ball-like fruiting bodies.
Disease fighting fungi
“The fungus is used as traditional medicine to treat arthritis and infantile convulsion.
“Scientific interest has increased due to the discovery of compounds in the fungus known as hypocrellins.”
“Hypocrellins are interesting to medical researchers owing to their light-induced anti-tumour, anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-microbial activities. Further research into the medicinal properties of this fungus are ongoing.”
A new snowdrop was spotted by accident in Turkey when a botanist uploaded some holiday snaps and saw the flower in one of the images, which turned out to be a critically endangered species that has almost died out.