April 24, 2009

New Tree Found In Ethiopia

Botanists discovered a pink-flowered tree in Ethiopia that has been overlooked by generations of researchers.

The acacia fumosa tree is located in a war zone so it was not "found" for scientific purposes until 2006-7.

"I have spent a lifetime looking at plants and describing species -- it knocked me sideways when I heard about this tree," said David Mabberley of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England.

"The total numbers must be in the millions," he said of the 20-foot tall tree that covers hillsides in an inaccessible area of 3,100 sq miles near the border with Somalia.

The article about the acacia fumosa tree is in Friday's edition of the journal Science.

Mabberley noted the flowering tree had probably been overlooked by generations of botanists, because it grows in the same region where the Ogaden National Liberation Front is fighting for autonomy.

From rainforests to mountains to the ocean depths, researchers say the discovery was encouraging that other overlooked large species might still be found.

"It's an upbeat story for a change," Mabberley said.

Swedish botanist Mats Thulin found the tree and previously described it in a Nordic journal.

Some believe the tree may have commercial uses, for instance in gum used for foodstuffs or glues. It's currently used for firewood only.

Mabberley said around 10,000 new species of plants or creatures are described worldwide every year, but most of them are small.

"I suspect there are still large species out there to be discovered," said Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of endangered species.

He said the most likely places to find overlooked species were in countries that have suffered conflicts like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia or Colombia.


Image Caption: A tree now named Acacia fumosa covers thousands of square kilometers of the limestone hills in Ethiopia's Ogaden region. Yet botanists had never named the tree until 2008. The new species bears pink flowers in the dry season, unlike most acacias, which produce yellow or cream blooms in the wet season.Credit: Thulin


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