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Flowering Tree: All the Buzz

ESF Top 10 New Species of 2016

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  • Sirdavidia solannona: flower
    Photo credit: Thomas Couvreur

  • Sirdavidia solannona: flower
    Photo credit: Thomas Couvreur

  • Sirdavidia solannona: Opened flower and buds
    Photo credit: Thomas Couvreur

About the Flowering Tree

Name: Sirdavidia solannona

Location: Gabon

How it made the Top 10:  This new tree species was "hidden" just meters from the main road in the Monts de Cristal National Park, in Gabon, which was thought to have already been well explored by science. Its small size, less than 6 meters (20 feet) high with a diameter of 10 cm (about four inches) might have caused it to be overlooked during inventories that focus on larger trees. It is so different from related members of the Annonaceae family of flowering plants, based on both morphology and molecular data, that it was described as a new genus, too. Its closest relative is also a genus with a single species, Mwasumbia, found on the other side of the African continent in Tanzania some 3,000 km (1,865 miles) away. Interestingly, the new species' flowers resemble those of certain Solanum, the genus of the nightshade family that includes potatoes and tomatoes, that are associated with the "buzz" pollination syndrome. In this syndrome, flowers have reflexed petals exposing the stamens and pistils that bees "sonicate" by creating vibrations of the air with their wings to extract and spread pollen. If buzz pollination is confirmed, it would be the first example in this family or any other early-diverged flowering plant, and an unexpected example of convergent reproductive evolution.

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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