The Royal Botanic Gardens (RGB) Kew, also known as Kew Gardens, is a botanical garden in London that features the largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collection worldwide. At the end of each year, scientists at RGB Kew select the top 10 most interesting plants and fungi discovered that year. This list shows the incredible complexities of the natural world and highlights rare species, many of which are threatened by extinction.
Last year, 90 plants and 24 types of fungi were discovered and named by RGB Kew and their partners. Through their discoveries, the scientists aim to support international efforts to halt the global biodiversity crisis. With the rapid, increasing loss of biodiversity as a result of climate change and other human-induced factors, we need to act now. In fact, current statistics show that two in five plants are estimated to be at risk of extinction.
Biodiversity loss is not only detrimental to local ecosystems, but also impacts us as humans. Daily activities that support human life, such as agriculture and the production of medicines, rely on local flora and fauna to thrive. Furthermore, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems serve as protection from the effects of natural phenomena such as flooding. They are also useful for sequestering large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.
Each year, approximately 2000 new species are named and described in the plant and fungi kingdoms. These discoveries may serve as potential food sources, medicines and solutions to everyday challenges. Compared to plants, our knowledge of fungi is even more rudimentary. Fungi are only recently being studied thoroughly as a result of DNA-based methods, as studying them using traditional techniques is challenging. In fact, our understanding of fungi is so limited that more than two million species of fungi, i.e. over 90% of all fungal species, are yet to be named and described.
The list below features RGB Kew’s top 10 plants and fungi species discovered and classified in 2022. Which is your favorite?
#1 – Queen’s Hedgehog (Hydnum reginae)
The Queen’s Hedgehog is a white, lumpy mushroom that measures up to 15 centimeters wide. It was named in honor of her majesty, the late Queen Elizabeth II. The name hedgehog comes from the soft spines that are found under the mushroom cap, instead of gills.
The species is rare and has only been found in Britain in the ancient beech forest of White, Down in Surrey. Initially, it was thought to be the same fungus as one from North America. However, DNA analyses have revealed that this European one is an entirely different species.
#2 – Carpotroche caceresiae
Carpotroche caceresiae is a tree from the Nicaraguan and Honduran rainforests. It grows up to 15 meters tall and has white, star-shaped flowers on the main stems and bright green-winged fruits. The tree was named in honor of Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores. She was one of 123 environmental activists assassinated between 2009 and 2016. These activists were opposed to the environmental degradation and loss of indigenous land in Honduras.
#3 – Giant Bolivian Waterlily (Victoria boliviana)
One of the botanical highlights of 2022 was the newest and largest member of the Victoria genus of waterlilies, the Giant Bolivian Waterlily. The genus is named after Queen Victoria and contains two other species. These two other species, Victoria amazonica and Victoria cruziana, were both classified in the early 19th century.
Victoria boliviana is found in the wetlands of Amazonian Bolivia and is huge. In fact, the lily pads can stretch up to 3.3 meters across! Unfortunately, it has been found to be vulnerable to extinction.
#4 – Garland of Nails (Gomphostemma phetchaburiense)
The Garland of Nails is a leafy herb that averages between 30 to 50 centimeters tall, with light pink/purple flowers. The various Gomphostemma species can be found in India, China and Malaysia and are known for their medicinal properties. They are useful for treating insect bites, malaria and tuberculosis!
Unlike most species of Gomphostemma that typically occur in forests, the Garland of Nails is found at the mouth of a specific limestone cave. It is considered a critically endangered plant in the wild because its global population consists of less than 50 plants. It is threatened by the droppings of a nearby colony of rock pigeons.
#5 – Orchid of the Falls (Saxicolella denisea)
Orchids of the Falls are a family of herbs that are highly adapted to living in spaces with fast-moving waters, like waterfalls. This is typically too harsh for most other plants, but these plants evolved to thrive in this habitat over tens of millions of years.
Unfortunately, the Saxicolella denisea species of Orchids of the Falls, from the Konkouré River in Guinea, West Africa, has been classified as extinct as a result of human-induced factors. With the growing demand for hydroelectric power, dams are being built near waterfalls. This disrupts seasonal water-flow and destroys the habitats where various species of aquatic flora live.
#6 – Winter Daffodil (Sternbergia mishustinii)
The Winter Daffodil has small, bright-yellow flowers that bloom in October and November in a single site in Mersin, southern Republic of Türkiye. Since the plant is only found at a single site and there are less than 300 of its kind in nature, it has been classified as critically endangered.
Plants in the Sternbergia genus contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, which make this a potentially useful medicinal plant. Though the Winter Daffodil was only recently classified, it was first discovered in 1997 by a Ukrainian scientist, Ruslan Mishustin.
#7 – Bruising Ink Bolete (Cyanoboletus mediterraneensis)
The Bruising Ink Bolete was first found by researchers in 2012 in Palestine and Sardinia, Italy. They have a hazel brown, felt-like cap with a lemon-yellow stipe and pores. When the mushroom is handled or bruised, it turns a deep indigo blue.
Initially, the Bruising Ink Bolete was first identified as the Ink Stain Bolete, found in temperate Europe, based on its morphology. However, through DNA sampling, these mushrooms were found to be a completely different species.
#8 – Busy Lizzie (Impatiens banen)
The Busy Lizzie is a flowering plant found in Cameroon’s Ebo forest and wildlife reserve. It features white and magenta flowers. Unfortunately, the plant, alongside others in the largely unstudied Ebo rainforest, is threatened by the increased logging and deforestation in the area.
#9 – Ipomoea aequatoriensis
Ipomoea aequatoriensis, found in tropical South America, is a weedy flowering plant. Through extensive DNA studies, it was found to be the closest relative of the sweet potato. This is of considerable interest to scientists, as breeding it may be beneficial for humans.
#10 – Pitanga Amerala (Eugenia paranapanemensis)
The Eugenia paranapanemensis tree can be found in one of the last surviving fragments of the Mata Atlantica rainforest in Brazil. The trees produce bright yellow-orange fruits that taste like sour cherries and eucalyptus and can reach heights up to 27 meters!
As a result of increased agriculture in the region, much of the Pitanga Amerala’s habitat has been destroyed. Only three mature trees have been found so far, rendering the species critically endangered.
Images by Geoffrey Kibby, Indiana Colorado, RBG KEW, Preecha Karaket, Denise Molmou, Ruslan Mishustin, Zohar Shafranov, Xander van der Burgt, JRI Wood and Paulo Camargo