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New Plant Discovered: UK's Kew Gardens Finds Waterlily

Jun 23, 2015 02:23 PM EDT

Carlos Magdalena, a plant expert at London's Kew Gardens, recently discovered a new, lushly purple, many-petaled waterlily with a yellow center, while plant hunting in Western Australia, according to a release.

The surprise was, Kew Gardens already had an identical plant. That lily had previously been collected in the Northern territories of Australia and grown at Kew, but botanists had thought that the lily must be a hybrid - a cross between two different plant varieties to acquire the attributes of each. However, the new location in Western Australia was thousands of miles from where the original lily had been discovered, and there was no trace of the suspected plant parents in the surrounding area, said a report.

In the past, botanists made new discoveries all the time, as they roamed continents. The UK's Royal Horticultural Society, for instance, David Douglas and others to gather plants on the west coast of North America. Those included the Douglas Fir -- a distinctive evergreen of the West -- and others.

This was Magdalena's first discovery of a previously unknown species. He had joined with explorers from Kings Park Botanic Gardens and the University of Western Australia, participating in a three-week waterlily-hunting field expedition, covering miles by Jeep and helicopter, noted a release.

The explorers found dazzling scenes of creeks filled with this species of waterlily, doing their best to avoid crocodiles while making collections. "After years of wondering about (the plant at Kew), it was a huge surprise to make this discovery," Magdalena said in the release. "Finding the first population was a shock, but then we found creeks filled with just this species - it was breathtaking."

Making collections is one of the necessary acts of botanical gardens, thinks Magdalena, according to the release. "It is vitally important that we have a thorough knowledge of how many species there are out there. Without it, it is impossible to protect them. Where they are, how many, which threats they may face - all these factors must be established. Plant conservation of this nature is at the very heart of what Kew exists to do."

The waterlily discovery must still be backed up with DNA analysis at Kew. Afterward, botanists hope to name the lily. If Kew grows the lily, its DNA will be available for international researchers to study, and its seeds will be stored at the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst, a botanical estate near Kew.

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