- Title: UK: Giant Madagascan palm welcomed into scientific literature
- Date: 18th January 2008
- Summary: (W4) LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM (JANUARY 17, 2008 ) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF WILLIAM BAKER, RESEARCHER AT ROYAL BOTANIC GARDEN'S HERBORIUM IN KEW LOOKING AT SPECIMAN OF GIANT PALM SPECIMANS OF FLOWERS FROM GIANT PALM PRESERVED IN JAR GIANT PALM SPECIMAN AND SKETCHES OF DIFFERENT PARTS OF PLANT / JARS WITH FLOWERS FROM GIANT PALM SPECIMAN PRESERVED
- Embargoed: 2nd February 2008 12:14
- Topics: Environment / Natural World
- Reuters ID: LVA31YV0JAHCNSE85E0T2AB3R9DL
- Aspect Ratio: 4:3
- Story Text: The largest giant fern ever discovered in Madagascar makes its official debut in academia with the publishing of a paper describing the long-living plant's unusual habit of dying once it has flowered.
A giant fern discovered in Madagascar made its official debut into academia on Thursday (January 17) with the publishing of a paper describing the long-living plant's unusual habit of dying once it has flowered.
The fern has been named 'Tahina spectablis', which means 'blessed' or 'to be protected' in the Malagasy language. It also happens to be one of the names of Anne-Tahina Metz, the daughter of the man who discovered the palm last year.
The fern belongs to a genus -- the biological grouping one step above species -- previously unknown to science, and raises questions about the lineage of such plants and the prehistoric movements of geological plates under the Earth's crust.
William Baker, a researcher at the Royal Botanic Gardens Herbarium in Kew, said the discovery had provoked a lot of interest in the palm world.
"The palm world is buzzing with excitement about this. They have been buzzing with excitement for the last year or so. We have had to keep the name secret for some time, to protect the story until it was properly published," he said.
Tahina spectablis' trunk towers 18 metres high and its leaves can reach five metres in diameter, making it easily the largest palm ever found in Madagascar.
There are around 90 known occurences of the giant fern in the area it was discovered, a seasonally dry area in the north-west of Madagascar.
The island, off the southeastern coast of Africa, is well known as teeming with unique flora and fauna.
The fern first came to prominence last year when a Frenchman, Xavier Metz, who manages a cashew plantation in the area, stumbled across it. His photographs of the palm soon captured the attention of scientists.
Baker said one of the most amazing things about the palm is its mechanism for reproduction, calling it "a true spectacle".
"It commits all its resources to reproducing and above the crown you get a huge candelabra many metres tall, this candelabra-like flowering structure that contains hundreds of thousands of flowers, which when they are open drip nectar and attract all sorts of insects and birds," he said.
Once the palm has flowered it can no longer sustain itself and dies slowly. Researchers at Kew Gardens believe the palm must have an unusually long life-cycle for its flowering and death sequence to have gone unnoticed for so long.
Scientists are now encouraging residents in western Madagascar to preserve the area and the novel palm, which could potentially offer locals a source of revenue in the form of seed sales to botanical gardens worldwide.
The paper, entitled "New Coryphoid palm genus from Madagascar"
was published on Thursday (January 17) in the 'Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society'.
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