‘Queen’s hedgehog’ mushroom among new 2022 finds recorded by Kew

The world’s largest giant water lily from wetlands in Bolivia, a prickly mushroom named after the queen and a grass threatened with extinction by pigeon droppings are among more than 100 plants and fungi recorded as new to science in 2022 by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Many finds, including a large tree from Brazil’s Atlantic Forest and a busy lizzie from Cameroon, are extremely rare and one is already considered globally extinct. It is estimated that two out of five plants in the world are threatened with extinction.

The Kew scientists said their efforts to name new species, working with partners, were part of a global effort to protect the planet’s biodiversity and help humanity. On average, 2,000 new species of plants and fungi are named each year, revealing the complexity of the tree of life as well as potential new sources of additional food, medicine, and innovation.

“It’s easy to think we have a perfect understanding of the natural world and all of its plants and fungi, but as these annual lists show us time and time again, we’ve only scratched the surface of discovery,” said Dr. Martin. Cheek, the principal research director of Kew’s Africa team. “We can’t end the biodiversity crisis if we don’t know exactly what we’re saving and where.”

This year’s finds include the queen’s hedgehog, a white mushroom with soft spines under the cap instead of gills, which DNA analysis revealed was a separate European species and not the mushroom North American he was once supposed to be. It was named in honor of Queen Elizabeth II.

Dr Tuula Niskanen, head of research in Kew’s fungal diversity team, said around 2 million fungal species – more than 90% of all fungi – have yet to be described by science. She said: “Mushrooms have remained such a mystery to us, compared to plants and many animals, because their cryptic lives take place mostly out of sight and have been difficult to study with traditional techniques. It is only in recent decades, with the advent of DNA-based methods, that we have begun to understand the true diversity of this realm.

DNA analysis has also confirmed the discovery of the giant Bolivian water lily from the Amazon wetlands, with leaves measuring up to 3.3 meters in diameter. Two previously known species of the Victoria genus of water lilies were both named in the early 19th century and have long been popular attractions in botanic gardens. Unknown to Kew researchers, a dried specimen of the giant Bolivian water lily was kept in the Kew Herbarium for over 170 years before it was revealed as a new species.

A new species of leafy grass, Gomphostema phetchaburiense, is listed as Critically Endangered in the wild because its total population is less than 50 plants, all of which are found at the mouth of a limestone cave in Southeast Asia. The remaining plants are particularly at risk from droppings from a nearby colony of Rock Doves.

Another newly discovered plant was deemed globally extinct before it could be officially confirmed as new to science and named. Saxicolella deniseae, a grass adapted to life in fast-flowing waters, was first collected from the Konkouré River of Guinea in West Africa, and named in honor of its collector, Denise Molmou. But a hydroelectric dam was built 20 miles downstream, producing a reservoir that flooded the falls of the lower Konkouré and its tributaries, leading to the plant’s likely demise.

This year’s fieldwork revealed that another new discovery, Ipomoea aequatoriensis, is a relatively common weedy flowering plant on the Ecuadorian coast. It has been identified as a putative ancestor of the sweet potato – a major food crop in tropical America – and new knowledge about its relatives could lead to the breeding of improved strains to benefit mankind.

Top 10 Kew Plant and Mushroom Finds

1. Queen’s Hedgehog (Hydnum reginae)
A rare European species known in Britain only from the species-defining specimen, which was found in the ancient beech forest of White Down, Surrey. Formerly known as Hydnum albiduma name originating in North America, a collaboration of British field mycologists and Kew experts led to its description as a separate European species.

2. Carpotroche caceresiae
A tree from the Caribbean rainforests of Nicaragua and Honduras, named in recognition of the bravery of Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores (1971-2016), one of at least 123 environmental activists murdered in Honduras between 2009 and 2016 for opposing destruction of natural habitats.

3. The giant Bolivian water lily (Bolivian Victoria)
A species confined to the wetlands of Amazonian Bolivia. A partnership of 16 Bolivian and European botanists working with experts from Kew led to its designation as new to science.

4. Gomphostema phetchaburiense
A leafy herb with pink-purple flowers and a new species in the genus Gomphostemmawhich means “garland of nails”.

5. Saxicolella deniseae
A family of grasses known as “falls orchids” because they are adapted to life in aerated flowing waters, an environment too harsh for many plants. Some species are only found on one or two waterfalls. Despite their common name, they are not orchids.

6. Turkish “winter daffodil” (Sternbergia mishustinii)
First collected from seed of an unknown bulbous plant near Mersin in southern Turkey in 1997 by Ukrainian naturalist Ruslan Mishustin of Kherson State University. It took years of research to be identified as a separate species. Plants of the Sternbergia genus contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds, making this new species a potentially untapped source of medicine.

7. Cyanoboletus mediterraneensis
A new species of Mediterranean bolete, the mushroom has been found in northern Israel and Sardinia, Italy. Parts of its brown crown and lemon-yellow stipe turn dark blue when handled or damaged.

8. Impatient banen
An endangered species of busy lizzie found in Ebo Forest, Cameroon, and named after the Banen, defenders of the forest and wildlife sanctuary. Ebo Forest is still under threat of deforestation despite the suspension of logging in 2020 following protests.

9. Ipomoea aequatoriensis
For many years, the parent species of the well-known sweet potato remained a mystery, but scientists have discovered that this flowering plant from the Ecuadorian coast is the closest relative.

ten. Eugenia paranapanemensis
A tree that grows up to 27 meters tall (equivalent to an eight-story building) and found only in the last fragments of the endangered Mata Atlântica rainforest in Brazil. Critically endangered, only three mature trees have been found so far.

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