Experts at Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden identify 73 new plant species in lockdown

Experts at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh have found 73 new species of flora since lockdown started.

Friday, 16th July 2021, 12:30 pm
Scientists have been kept busy during lockdown at the Botanics.
Scientists have been kept busy during lockdown at the Botanics.

A rhododendron from the mountains of Vietnam, named Rhododendron tephropeploides, has become the most recent to be added to the compilation, which includes gingers, salvias and impatiens.

The pretty white flower was collected in 2014 on an expedition with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and international partners from Vietnam, the US and Canada.

Its publication in the Edinburgh Journal of Botany reflects how urgent work to document and understand the world's biodiversity has continued in a bid to describe more than one new plant every week.

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Experts focused their attentions on the little studied Hoang Lien Son mountain range near the border with China, collected the plant on Phan Xi Păng mountain, the highest peak in the Indochinese peninsula.

It is suspected to be under threat from soil erosion.

Lead author of the paper, Richard Baines, Curator of Logan Botanic Garden, a Regional Garden of RBGE, said: "Finding and recording plants is the very first step in protecting biodiversity and, incredibly, we are still documenting plants previously unknown to science.

"Sadly, a great number of the species occurring in this area are severely threatened by deforestation and agricultural cultivation and barely exist other than in small, fragile, populations.

"By collecting seeds from those plants in the wild and growing them on in botanic gardens in ex-situ conservation projects, we give them a better chance of survival."

Assistant Professor Nguyen Van Dzu from the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources (IEBR), Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, added: "Our collaboration with RBGE and other international partners on recent expeditions has had tangible results including the description and naming of species new to science and a greater understanding of the threats to Vietnam's plant diversity."

Dr Alan Elliott, Biodiversity Conservation Network Manager, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh said: "This new Rhododendron is the product of several years of collaborative field studies with our partners in Vietnam.

"Intensive, coordinated field research and local knowledge are key to successful and integrated species conservation.

"Along with gaining a better understanding of the threats facing habitats and the conservation actions required to better protect species, we can also gain an increased knowledge of the biodiversity of an area when we find undescribed diversity.

"The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is the lead organisation in the Global Conservation Consortium for Rhododendron and as such this new Rhododendron is protected through RBGE's commitment to provide a highly curated and scientific conservation collection of Rhododendron, across our four Gardens."

In March the Evening News reported that the RGBE was faced with the difficult decision to chop down its oldest-known plant, an endangered Bermudian fan palm, Sabal Bermudana, as it was growing too tall for its hothouse.

The tree is the oldest palm in Scotland and has been growing for more than two centuries.

The palm is believed to have been transported nearly 4,000 miles from Bermuda to Germany before being shipped to the Port of Leith in the 1790s and planted off Leith Walk, where the RBGE had a site at the time.

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