Rare Genus Of Plants Named After Sir David Attenborough

Thomas Couvreur

Sir David Attenborough is a brilliant naturalist who has steadily stolen the hearts of nature enthusiasts across the globe. His soothing dulcet tones are the perfect accompaniment to his enchanting documentaries that have taken us from the depths of the ocean to the coldest parts of the planet, showcasing the wonderful diversity of life on Earth. It’s therefore no surprise that a variety of organisms have been named after the naturalist, who is a continuing inspiration for many biologists. Now, to honor his influence on the careers of a group of scientists, a newly discovered genus and species of plant has been named after the British broadcaster.

Plants, crustaceans, grasshoppers, fish, spiders and even dinosaurs (the attenborosaurus, of course) have all been named after Attenborough, among others, but it is believed that this is the first time an entire genus—a taxonomic rank above a species—has been named after him. The newly discovered plant, S. solannona, which belongs to the new Sirdavidia genus, has been described in the open access journal PhytoKeys, alongside the World Annonaceae Scratchpad.

The discovery was made by a team of botanists exploring the rainforests of Monts de Cristal National Park, Gabon, who set out to examine the floral diversity of a large group of plants called Magnoliids. Within the Magnoliidae group is a family of flowering plants called the Annonaceae, or custard apple family, to which the newly discovered species and genus belong.

The area that the scientists were investigating is one of the most botanically explored areas in Gabon, so much so that a colleague of the discoverers wondered why they were bothering to explore it. “In the tropical rainforests, no species is well known,” said lead author Thomas Couvreur. “But in this case, the area is the place to go for botanists. . .It just shows in a region that we think is well known you can still have very interesting discoveries.”

The finding was particularly surprising given the proximity of the newly discovered species to a main road. However, after extensively exploring for more specimens, the researchers were able to conclude that the species is extremely rare as it cropped up in only two localities, which is probably why no one noticed it before. This is also the reason why the plant has been preliminarily classified as endangered.

The plant’s unusual flower structure, including bright red petals with up to 19 yellow stamens loosely arranged into a cone, hinted that it may be a new genus within the Annonaceae family, but it took DNA sequencing to confirm this. Alongside sporting an unusual shape, the plant has sparked interest because scientists believe that the flowers are likely “buzz pollinated,” a technique employed by some bees whereby the insects release pollen by vigorously vibrating their wings against the flower. Although further studies are required to confirm this, if they turn out to be correct, it will be the first known example of buzz pollination in the Magnoliideae group.

According to a statement, Sir David was “thrilled” to have had a genus named after him. “I know very well that such a decision is the greatest compliment that a biologist can pay to another and I am truly grateful,” he said.  

[Via Pensoft Publishers, The Guardian, World Annonaceae and PhytoKeys]

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