May 19, 2017

More than 1,700 plant species were discovered last year

Begonia rubrobracteolata / S. Julia

The Guardian's Damian Carrington breaks down the the latest State of the World's Plants report, published Thursday, by scientists at the Royal Botanical Garden Kew in the U.K. The study reveals that more than 1,700 new species were discovered last year, and examines the pests and invasive species that pose a threat to plants across the globe.

Why it matters: The discoveries offer researchers different plants to investigate for medical treatments, food and fuel and provide insights into how species might be protected from pests.

The discoveries, as detailed in The Guardian:

  • Edible plants: 11 new species of cassava were found in Brazil. Wild relatives of capers, ginger, vanilla and sugar cane were also among the new discoveries.
  • "Most striking": A new bamboo was uncovered in Madagascar, which "produces spiky, hedgehog-like flower clusters" that take between 10 and 50 years to develop.
  • Relatives of garden plants: 29 new begonias were found in the forests of Malaysia; new roses and busy-lizzies were discovered in China, and new violets and campions were uncovered in Turkey.
  • Medicinal plants: Climbing vines related to plants that produce compounds used for treating Parkinson's disease were found in Borneo and Ecuador. The authors reported more than 28,000 plant species are now documented as having medicinal uses.
  • A new species of coffee beans in Madagascar

The threats: Pests, diseases and invasive species, including the emerald ash borer beetle that arrived in the U.S. from China via wood packing material and is threatening to kill most of the 8 billion ash trees in the country.

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