MoBot Discovered About 200 New Plants In 2020
The Missouri Botanical Garden proved crucial to plant conservation studies over the past year: All told, the organization discovered about 200 plant species, roughly 10% of what scientists identified worldwide in 2020.
Jim Miller describes it as a race against time.
“We are racing against time to describe things before their habitats are destroyed or degraded. We know about 300,000 species of plants, but they are probably in excess of another 100,000 that still remain to be discovered and described,” the garden’s senior vice president of science explained on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air.
Miller joined the program alongside Missouri Botanical Garden President Peter Wyse Jackson to share examples of new discoveries and talk about the overarching view and particularities of this work.
“The garden has played a hugely important role in discovering and describing the world’s flora. And that extends [to] not just new species, but leading the preparation of some major flora books and descriptive works about the flora of China, flora of North America, Central America and so on,” Wyse Jackson said.
In order to best save a plant from extinction, its existence needs to be recorded first, and the process to describe the new plants can sometimes take decades of research.
One example is a small forest tree found in Central America and South America. MoBot researcher Charlotte Taylor described the faramea stoneana plant after studying its specimens collected over a 40-year period. The plant was named after one of the plant’s main research leaders, Don Stone, who ran the Organization for Tropical Studies.
“The things that we're discovering and describing right now tend to be very rare, very geographically restricted, and often threatened with impending extinction. And so it's critical that we provide names and begin to accumulate information and understand the situation of these plants if we're going to do anything to ensure their future survival,” Miller added.
New discoveries are typically named after what they look like, places they’re from or after somebody who heavily researched them. The latter is the case with the diospyros hongwae, an endangered ebony plant. It was named in the honor of Cynthia Hong-Wa, a Malagasy student who earned a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
“She's played a tremendous role in helping us understand the flora of Madagascar. And this new ebony that's named in her honor recognizes her contributions,” Miller said.
Some new discoveries made their way to St. Louis. The blephilia woffordii is a wood mint found in Tennessee. MoBot’s Aaron Floden is cultivating the species in the garden’s center in St. Louis.
“We want to make sure that we bring many more of these endangered species into our science programs to understand them, but also to continue to publish new species, and to get many more species into conservation or into our seed banks so they will survive for the future,” Wyse Jackson said.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.