Over 1,700 New Plant Species Discovered in the Last Year

Fagjun | Published 2017-05-20 03:27

It turns out that the world has around 1,700 new plant species, many of which can be extremely useful in many ways.

Scientists at the UK's Royal Botanical Garden Kew have found that these plants can be sources of food, medicine, and timber. The crop plants, in particular, may be quite useful. These wild crop plants in the list of new discoveries have been around for hundreds of thousands of years. Thus, they have adapted to all kinds of climate and may have important traits that domesticated plants no longer have.

Of course, there are times when good news comes with bad news. The good news is that the natural world is more diverse than we previously thought. Also, these new discoveries may be able to provide a genetic blueprint for creating stronger and more resilient crops. The bad news is that some of these newly discovered species are already nearing extinction.

New Plant Species and Climate Change Adaptation

Cassava is important to millions of people in the tropics. Newly discovered cassava relatives may help scientists develop newer and tougher cassava varieties.
[Photo by Annie Spratt]

Let's not expect exotic, never-before-seen plants that look like they came from another planet. These new plant species are relatives of species that are already familiar to us, many of which are in common use. However, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't get excited. These new species may not be all new, but they can help humanity in the future.

Scientists found 11 new species of cassava in Brazil, as well as wild relatives of ginger, vanilla, capers, and sugar cane. These discoveries can aid botanists in developing new varieties that can withstand changing climes and disease. Thus, climate change can have less of an impact on populations that depend on these crops.

There is also a newly found species of bamboo that has spiky flowers that look like hedgehogs. We also now have seven new species of plant related to the bush that produces the South African rooibos tea. Aloe vera, which is popular in pharmaceutics and cosmetics, also has new relatives.

The Royal Botanical Garden Kew's report says that scientists are sequencing the genome of these plant species. More than 200 plants have now revealed the secrets of genes. The report also focused more on plants in Madagascar. 83% of plants on this island off the southern tip of Africa don't appear anywhere else on Earth.

Saving Our Plants From Ourselves

Because many of the newly discovered plant species are endangered, scientists are looking to establish protected areas around the world.
[Photo by Jorge Illich Gejo]

Now, on to the bad news (though it's really not all bad). Though we've only just found out about these plants, many of them are unfortunately on their way to extinction. The Royal Botanical Garden Kew's scientists are also working on cataloging which species are in danger. They are identifying and naming the plants, as well as analyzing the plants' distribution around the world. This information is crucial to identifying which areas on Earth should be under protection to keep the endangered plant species alive.

Thus, there's hope yet for the species that are in danger of extinction. However, what put these plants in danger of extinction in the first place? For some, the answer is habitat loss due to human encroachment. Fortunately, human intervention may be key to saving these endangered plant species.

Hey! Where are you going?? Subscribe!

Get weekly science updates in your inbox!