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Two New Flower Species Were Discovered Online

These naturalists didn’t know one another—but that didn’t keep them from discovering two new magnolias together

Perhaps Magnolia rzedowskiana should be renamed Magnolia interneta. (ARKive/Roberto Pedraza Ruiz)
smithsonian.com

A botanist’s work is never done—despite the existence of at least 350,000 species of flowering plants, much of the plant world has yet to be discovered. But you’d expect most of those finds to take place in the field or in a museum, not behind a keyboard. In at least one case, you’d be wrong. As the BBC reports, two endangered species of magnolia were recently discovered after being spotted online.

José Antonio Vázquez, a Mexican botanist, was scouring ARKive, a huge collection of wildlife imagery, when he came across a photo of Magnolia dealbata, the BBC reports. The flower is thought to be so rare that only four or five populations of 80 to 100 flowers exist, and its scarcity has earned it “endangered” status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

But something seemed off about the photo to Vázquez. He didn’t think it looked like M. dealbata, so he reached out to its photographer, whom he had never met. In a blog on ARKive, the flower’s photographer, Roberto Pedraza Ruiz, describes how he went back to the cloud forest in Mexico's Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve to take additional pics for Vázquez. These misty, high tropical forests are rare themselves and are thought to occupy only 0.14 percent of the entire planet.

The pictures taken by Ruiz were even rarer. He found more flowers and sent the images to Vázquez, who confirmed that he had discovered not one, but two species of rare magnolia. Vázquez recently published an identification of one of the species, which he named Magnolia rzedowskiana in honor of Jerzy Rzedowski, a Mexican botanist who has collected over 50,000 specimens. The other species will be named Magnolia pedrazae—after Ruiz himself.

This isn’t the first time the internet has helped identify a completely new species of plant. Last year, a never-before-studied carnivorous sundew plant was discovered by a doctoral student browsing photos on Facebook. So keep your eyes peeled for internet flora—you never know what that selfie or vacation snap might contain.

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