Botanists discover new species of plants relatively frequently, but describing a new genus may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
A team led by Carmen Ulloa, associate curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden, recently discovered a new tree in northwest Honduras .
In the misty cloud forests of Parque National El Cusuco (Spanish for the Armadillo National Park), the tree was known only to the squirrels, coatimundia, and local Hondurans. The locals called it guayaba, because the fruit resembles the guava, though it is not edible by humans.
It is now known to science as Hondurodendron urceolatum.
Ulloa and her team did not immediately know that the tree was a completely unknown genus.
They first became aware of the tree in 2007. Three years of painstaking genetic and structural analysis proved to them that this 40-foot tall specimen was something completely new to science.
Parque National El Cusuco is a patch of mountainous forest surrounded by agricultural lands near the industrial city of San Pedro Sula.Hondurodendron is known only from scattered patches within this mountain range.
The researchers assigned the species a provisional conservation status of endangered, because of logging and livestock grazing within the park.
Photo credit: J. Kolby, 2010