From the tallest to the smallest The smallest species on this year's new species list are wood-rotting fungi, which are less than a millimeter thick and cover their hosts like a lick of paint. With a Swedish colleague, Dr Brian Spooner and Dr Peter Roberts, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew's experts on fungal taxonomy, have just described five of these minute fungi. "They are small, but they perform a vital role in decomposition of plant material and recycling of nutrients," says Dr Spooner. These new fungi were among many specimens collected during a joint Anglo-Australian expedition to the Kimberley Region of Western Australia in 1988 and which are still under study. Other miniature discoveries in this year's list include two new species of Gymnosiphon; bizarre little flowering plants less than 10cm tall that derive their energy not from the sun but from underground fungi. Marie Briggs, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew botanist, who discovered one of these plants in Madagascar in 2007, seems to have a penchant for discovering small plants. While on an expedition to western Madagascar in 2009 she found specimens of a new genus of succulent belonging to the coffee family (Rubiaceae), and which is less than 3cm tall.
Mountains of orchids With just over 25,000 species, the orchids are probably the world's largest flowering plant family. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew's orchid experts Dr Jeff Wood and Dr Phil Cribb have added 38 new species to the total this year alone. Wood has been studying the orchids of Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Borneo (4095m), for more than a decade and yet continues to discover species new to science. "Kinabalu is unbelievably rich," says Dr Wood. "In an area of just 1,200 square kilometres 866 d
|Contact: Bronwyn Friedlander|
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew