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No One Knew This Plant Existed Until It Was Posted to Facebook

What’s the emoji for “scientific discovery”?

The first known photograph of Drosera magnifica. (Reginaldo Vasconcelos)
smithsonian.com

Paulo Gonella made a bona fide scientific discovery while scrolling through Facebook. Now, it’s being heralded as the first new plant species “discovered” on the social network — putting everyone else’s Facebook “discoveries” of things like old high school flames and upcoming bar crawls to shame.

An amateur botanist named Reginaldo Vasconcelos first posted a photo of the plant back in 2012 while hiking near his home in southeastern Brazil. A year later, Gonella stumbled across the photograph when another friend reposted it on Facebook. A plant researcher at the Institute of Biosciences at the University of São Paulo, Gonella realized this species of Drosera was new.

“The plants in the photo looked very different from all the other species I know,” Gonella told Smithsonian.com via Facebook Messenger.

Soon, Gonella and Vasconcelos returned to the mountain and confirmed that the plant, now named Drosera magnifica, was in fact new to science. After studying the plant along with other researchers at the Botanical State Collection in Munich, they announced its discovery last week in the journal Phytotaxa.

A type of sundew, Drosera magnifica is the second-largest carnivorous plant in the Americas. The “magnificent sundew” can grow up to five feet tall and is covered in sticky leaves that can snag insects as big as dragonflies.

So far, the plant has only been found on a single, easily accessible mountaintop. However, the sundew is already considered to be critically endangered — the Telegraph reports that the lone mountain is surrounded by cattle ranches and plantations that have already cleared most of the forest cover in the area.

h/t Atlas Obscura.

(Paulo Gonella)
Drosera magnifica in habitat. (Paulo Gonella)
Drosera magnifica with a prey - a small butterfly. (Paulo Gonella)
Reginaldo Vasconcelos, the discoverer of the magnificent sundew, holding a large specimen collected for herbarium studies. (Paulo Gonella)
The carnivorous foliage of Drosera magnifica. (Paulo Gonella)
About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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