Hand lens, Geneva and a new name
A botanist never leaves home without their hand lens, however, not expecting to see any liverworts, Dr Renner left his in the car.
“I borrowed Dr Wilson’s lower magnitude lens, but it wasn’t possible to put the plant into a genus in the field, which doesn’t happen very often,” said Dr Renner.
Frustrated and nearly 700 kilometres from the nearest microscope, the pair took samples of the curious plant to identify it at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney.
“Back in Sydney, we established that it belonged to the genus Acromastigum, but it didn’t quite match any species in the published literature,” Dr Renner said.
By chance, Dr Renner had a trip planned to the Conservatory and Botanic Gardens of Geneva in 2016, which houses the world’s largest collection of liverwort type specimens.
“After comparing our plant from Far North Queensland with Acromastigum type specimens kept in Geneva, we were confident we had discovered a new species.
“It has probably survived in the dry habitat due to a constant splash from nearby waterfalls,” said Dr Renner.
Every year scientists discover about 2000 new plant species and naming them is the first step in understanding their relationship to other species, creating a conservation plan or investigating their medicinal qualities.
“We named our surprise discovery Acromastigum carcinum, referencing the claw-like appearance of the leaf apex and the Greek word for crab,” Dr Renner said.