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Flowering Tree: All the Buzz

ESF Top 10 New Species of 2016

From the Author...

Gabon, in central Africa, contains some of the most species-rich rain forests in the world. It is a true botanist’s dreamland! The main purpose of our expedition was to collect as many different species as possible of an important tropical plant group called the custard apple family. The flowers of this family are quite spectacular. Part of our research aims to understand the mechanisms behind species diversity in the tropics and to understand what has led to the incredible diversity of forms within this family. Our destination was the national park of the “Monts de Cristal”or Crystal Mountains. The name itself awakens curiosity and excitement, just like in a Tolkien book.

As we walked through the dense rain forest we stumbled upon a curious species. We initially only found small red flower buds, and I didn’t think much of it at that moment. As we continued our prospection in the area, something red and yellow caught the corner of my eye. As I turned around, I fell “eye to flower” with a beautiful, fully opened flower. I literally let a “Wow!” escape from my mouth. As I called my colleagues to come and see, I was puzzled. Its morphological aspect didn’t match any kind of species I knew of. And that is when I got the feeling — a feeling I had had 10 years ago on the other side of Africa: What if this is not just a new species, but an entirely new lineage or genus?

Our morphological studies in the herbarium and in the lab looking at DNA sequences confirmed my suspicion: We had stumbled across a new genus for this family. It is quite amazing because we were close to the road and in an area that was quite well known to botanists. Somehow, this new lineage was never collected before there. This species still has a lot to reveal. Initial analyses suggest it might be pollinated by bees via the vibration of their wings. Such a pollination strategy would be the first within this large group of plants that represents an early branch of other flowering plants.

— Thomas Couvreur

About the Flowering Tree

Name: Sirdavidia solannona

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Location: Gabon

Kingdom: Plantae

Phylum: Angiospermae

Class: Magnoliopsida

Order: Magnoliales

Family: Annonaceae

Size: The tree, less than 6 m (about 20 feet) in height and 10 cm (about 4 inches) in diameter, may have been missed in earlier tree inventories that often focus on larger diameter trees.

Etymology: The new genus name, Sirdavidia, honors Sir David Attenborough while the specific epithet solannona refers to the striking resemblance of the plant's flower to certain species of Solanum.

Type locality: Gabon, Estuaire, Monts de Cristal

Holotype: National Herbarium of The Netherlands, Wageningen

More information: Thomas L. P. Couvreur, Raoul Niangadouma, Bonaventure Sonké, and Hervé Sauquet. 2015. Sirdavidia, an extraordinary new genus of Annonaceae from Gabon. PhytoKeys 46: 1-19

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