New Species Described by Garden Scientists in 2022 

Each year, the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Science and Conservation staff discover and name about 200 plant species new to science. That’s roughly 10 percent of all plant species discovered by scientists worldwide annually. 

Discovery is the first crucial step in plant conservation. Until a species is described, we cannot think about conservation status or ensure its survival. Many plants described by scientists are critically endangered and at risk of disappearing. Once the species has a name, plans to try to ensure its survival can begin. 

We’re still counting the number of new species discovered by the Garden this year, but here are a few highlights so far. 

Photo by Rodolfo Vásquez.

New species: Meriania vasquezii 

Type of plant: Meriania 

Where it’s from: Peru 

Describers: Robin Fernandez-Hilario, Rosa Villanueva-Espinoza, Fabián A. Michelangeli,  

Recommended conservation status: Critically endangered 

An 8-foot shrub with vibrant magenta flowers, Meriania vasquezii is known from a single collection in Peru. This rare beauty is one of nine new species of Meriania from Peru Garden scientists and collaborators described in 2022, most of which are critically endangered. Meriania vasquezii is one of four of the newly-described species known only from a single collection.  

Meriania vasquezii is named in honor of Garden researcher Rodolfo Vásquez, who has incredible contributions to the knowledge of the flora of Peru in his 30-year career. 

Photo by Freddy Méndez-Urbano.

New species: Anthurium caldasii 

Type of plant: Anthurium 

Where it’s from: Colombia 

Describers: Freddy Méndez-Urbano, Julio Andrés Sierra-Giraldo, Natalia Castaño-Rubiano, Ghennie T. Rodríguez-Rey, and  Mónica M. Carlsen

Conservation status: Unknown, but likely high risk for extinction 

True black flowers and spathes are rare in the plant kingdom, but there are several anthurium species with black spathes that grow in Colombia. These species face a heightened risk of extinction due to their ornamental value, as well as habitat destruction.  

Anthurium caldasii, described by Garden Scientist Monica Carlsen and collaborators, is the newest species of black-spathed Anthuriums, the total number of which is currently unknown. Accurately identifying these species is essential for targeting conservation efforts, meaning the description of this new species has direct implications for conservation. 

Photo by Victor Steinmann.

New species: Polystemma fishbeiniana 

Type of plant: Milkweed 

Where it’s from: Mexico 

Describers: Victor W. Steinmann and W.D. Stevens 

Recommended conservation status: Endangered 

Another example of rare black coloring in a plant, the black to dark burgundy hues outlining this milkweed’s yellow flowers distinguish it from all other species in its genus, Polystemma. Polystemma fishbeiniana, a vining milkweed, is known from only two locations in Mexico, where it grows among cacti in open-thorn forest. It flowers from June to September and produces fruit from October to March.  

North American milkweeds are best known as food for larvae of the endangered monarch butterfly but, like with most newly-discovered rare species, scientists don’t know what insects might feed on, or pollinate the plant. And, like most newly discovered rare species, it will probably become extinct before any more is known. 

Polystemma fishbeiniana is endangered by extensive cattle and goat grazing as well as increasing drought.

Photo by Sandratra Aina Fanantenana Andrianarivelo.

New species: Dalbergia razakamalalae 

Type of plant: Rosewood

Where it’s from: Madagascar

Describers: Simon Crameri, Peter B. Phillipson, Nicholas Wilding

Recommended conservation status: Endangered 

Dalbergia razakamalalae is one of two new species of Dalbergia, a type of rosewood, described a scientific article earlier this year as part of a taxonomic revision of the genus as the Garden works to understand and protect the highly-threatened “precious woods” of  Madagascar. It is named after Richard Razakamalala, one of the Garden’s most prolific botanical explorers, who has added so much valuable information about the plants of his country.

In 2019, the Madagascar Precious Wood Project was initiated to gather information on all species of rosewood and ebony in Madagascar so that the Malagasy government will have the necessary information to sustainably manage this valuable resource. Through this project, Garden researchers and associates have identified 75 new species of precious woods, including 45 new species of ebony and 30 new species of rosewood.

In total, the study found that Madagascar is home to 255 species of ebony, including 88 large enough to be potential sources of commercially valuable timber, and 100 species of rosewood, of which 60 can potentially produce valuable timber.

Photo by Olga Martha Montiel.

New species: Deamia funis

Type of plant: Cactus 

Where it’s from: Nicaragua  

Describers: Barry Hammel and Salvador Arias 

Conservation status: Endangered 

While many think of cacti as the indestructible houseplant or the only plant life in the desert, cacti come in all shapes in sizes and adapt to many different habitats. 

Deamia funis is notable for its dangling, ropey stems and relatively small, white flowers. It grows hanging from horizontal tree branches in dry, seasonal forests in Central Nicaragua. The species is known from only three locations and faces threats from habitat destruction due to cattle farming.  

Photo by W. Quizhpe.

New species: Laplacea plicata 

Type of plant: In the tea family, Theaceae 

Where it’s from: Ecuador 

Describers: Gabriela Moya, Nelson Miranda, Nora Oleas, and Carmen Ulloa  

Recommended conservation status: Endangered 

This tree species only grows in forests in the Cordillera del Cóndor, an area high in plant endemics in southern Ecuador that is threatened by mining activities. The paper describing it was a result of a Garden virtual Davidson-Christoph Fellowship Moya received to prepare a scientific publication under the guidance of Nora Oleas and Garden scientist Carmen Ulloa. 

Photo by Hai He.

New species: Polystichum gonggashanense 

Type of plant: Fern 

Where it’s from: China 

Describers: Hai He and Li Bing Zhang 

Recommended Conservation status: Critically endangered 

Garden scientist Li Bing Zhang first found this fern as a graduate student on a field trip in 1989 and knew right away it was a new species. He and his supervisor, H.S. Kung, submitted a manuscript identifying it as a new species, Polystichum gonggashanense, but two reviewers declined the manuscript saying it was not a new species. Zhang was nonetheless determined to publish this as a new species, but unfortunately the herbarium specimens it was based upon were lost and in 1993 when he returned to the original collection site to recollect it, he discovered that the site had been disturbed by construction and the species was nowhere to be found.

Eventually, colleague Hai He, with Chongqing Normal University, found the species again and it is finally correctly published as a new species. 

Only four very small populations with few individuals have been found, all in high elevations of the same mountain. With such a small population, and threats from expanding tourism and global warming, Polystichum gonggashanense faces an uncertain future. 

 Photo by Luis Valenzuela.

New species: Epidendrum chrisii-sharoniae 

Type of plant: Orchid 

Where it’s from: Peru 

Describers: Luis Valenzuela Gamarrai. & Eilzabeth Santiago Ayala 

Recommended Conservation status: Unknown 

A popular houseplant coveted for its beauty, orchids are fascinating, and diverse, plants. The flowers, from the family Orchidaceae, grow on every continent except Antartica, and comprise more than 28,000 species. The genus Epidendrum is one of the most species-rich genera in the orchid family with more than 1,800 known species and scientists estimate there are hundreds more yet to be described. Peru is home to nearly 500 of these known species, and a recent study from Garden scientists found there are many more to be discovered. 

Among the newest species is Epidendrum chrisii-sharoniae, known from only two locations. This orchid blooms July to October, producing deep violet to dark purple flowers. It is named for botanists Christopher Davidson and Sharon Christoph, who have supported the Garden’s botanical research and fieldwork in Peru. 

Photo by Charles Paulino.

New species: Bulbophyllum raulersoniae 

Type of plant: Orchid 

Where it’s from: Guam and Rota 

Describers: Benjamin E. Deloso, Charles A. Paulino, and Jim Cootes 

Recommended Conservation status: Endangered 

This tiny orchid, producing single white flowers just about 1 cm in size, was known to local botanists in Guam for years but hadn’t previously been formally described. Bulbophyllum raulersoniae grows in the understory of moist limestone forests in Guam and Rota. It grows on host plants, including pandanus, a native tropic shrub.  Its discreet flowers only remain open for two days.

So far, the species has only been reported from these two islands, but additional studies are needed to determine the full range of the species and what pollinates it. It is named posthumously for Lynn Raulerson, former curator of the University of Guam herbarium and the first person to report this as a unique taxon

Photo by Laurence Ramon.

New species: Styppeiochloa toliarensis

Type of plant: Grass 

Where it’s from: Madagascar 

Describers: Jordan K. Teisher and Peter B. Phillipson

Recommended Conservation status:  Endangered

A decade ago, Garden Scientist Pete Phillipson and colleagues were compiling a database on plants of Madagascar when he noticed that numerous subspecies of Malagasy grasses described in 1926 that had been left out of a more recent assessment of African grasses. These plants were intriguing as they grow in exposed bedrock and were mostly found in Madagascar’s high plateau, but few specimens were available. A network of connections that included Garden staff in Madagascar and international colleagues joined the quest to properly collect, study, and document the genus Styppeiochloa in Madagascar, ultimately finding it represented five distinct species, including two new species.

Phillipson and colleague Jordan Teisher, have now described two new species, Styppeiochloa toliarensis and Styppeiochloa marojejyensis, which great expanded the known geographic range of Styppeiochloa and show diversity of the genus in Madagascar. The new species are named after the localities in Madagascar where they have been found, Toliara on the southwest coast and Marojejy in the northeast, both at some distance from the central high plateau.

Photo by Tom Croat.

New species: Anthurium toroense  

Type of plant: Anthurium   

Where it’s from: Panama 

Describers: Tom Croat   

Recommended Conservation status: Unknown   

In 2022, Garden researcher Tom Croat described 131 taxa of anthurium. Of these, 82 taxa, comprising 81 species and one variety, are from Central America and 49 from South America   

Anthurium toroense which produces lavender berries, is known from only one site on Cerro Colorado in Bocas del Toro, Panama and is named for the province Bocas del Toro. 

Catherine Martin, Public Information Officer

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