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18 Dec 2018

Tiny aquatic flower discovered in northern NSW

A botanist from the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney has discovered a tiny new flower species growing in three shallow swamps in northern NSW belonging to a genus used in a variety of medicines. 

A flash of purple

Botanist from the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney Dr Richard Jobson was performing some field work in northern NSW when something caught his eye. 

"I saw a flash of purple from a tiny plant with a single flower about one centimetre in diameter - I knew I had found something new to science," said Dr Jobson. 

Dr Jobson then had to wait several years until there was enough rain in the area for the elusive flower to re-emerge and provide the evidence to officially confirm it as a brand-new species Lobelia claviflora. 

“The deep purple bands on the flower’s throat inspired the name ‘claviflora’, which comes from the Latin ‘clavus’, resembling the purple stripe decorating the tunic worn by persons of state in Ancient Rome,” Dr Jobson said.  

“Besides its striking purple colour and tiny stature, another interesting feature is its inflated stems, which is possibly an adaptation that allows it to support itself in water,” Dr Jobson said.

Uncovering medicinal properties in our biodiversity

Every year scientists discover about 2000 new plant species around the world and naming them is the first step in understanding their relationship to other species, creating a conservation plan or investigating their medicinal qualities.

In fact, the above ground parts of the genus Lobelia are used to make a variety of medicines because it contains chemicals that thin mucus to assist with respiratory related illnesses.

One chemical in Lobelia also has actions similar to nicotine and it has been used in stop-smoking products up until 1993 in the U.S.  

“Fieldwork is a critical component and this discovery highlights how we can still uncover remarkable biodiversity in the most unlikely places,” Dr Jobson said.  

Director of Science and Conservation at the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney said scientists here have been studying and documenting plant life in NSW and Australia for over 200 years.

“Uncovering and understanding our biodiversity is essential to protect the future of threatened species,” Dr Summerell said. 

“This discovery is yet another example of the vital scientific work being done by plant scientists in NSW," said Dr Summerell. 

These elusive swamps also harbour the likewise potentially threatened bladderwort Utricularia fenshamii; a plant only known to occur in one other site near White Cliffs.

Dr Jobson’s discovery and description of Lobelia claviflora has been published in the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney’s Telopea journal.

Picture: Lobelia claviflora habitat in northern NSW.
Category: Science
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