Research Highlight

New species of African violet plants discovered

doi:10.1038/nindia.2021.79 Published online 25 May 2021

The newly discovered violets are named Didymocarpus vickifunkiae after American botanist Vicki Ann Funk.

© Gowda, V. & Prasanna, N. S.

Researchers from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Bhopal have discovered a new species of plant belonging to the African Violets family in Mizoram1.

The discovery, they say, is the fruit of extensive fieldwork across northeast India and rigorous sifting through plant specimens in herbariums across the world.

The new plant species sheds some light on the unique evolutionary trajectory of flora in the northeastern parts of India. Such findings, the researchers say, are important in designing conservation approaches to protect the fragile ecosystems of northeast India.

Named after the late botanist Vicki Ann Funk from the US-based Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the plant (Didymocarpus vickifunkiae) is an endangered species that currently grows in three districts of Mizoram. It grows on moss-covered trees and blooms light pink flowers during the monsoons.

Historical collections and surveys indicate that this species is restricted to high elevation, wet evergreen forests of the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot region. The plant and its close relatives span from the western Himalayas to Sumatra. Most of these species are endemic and require specialised habitats to survive, thus acting as an indicator of pristine habitats, the researchers report.

There are 106 currently known species of this genus, of which 26 are present in northeastern states of India.

“This discovery shows that the northeast India is home to highly diverse flora because of its unique environment as part of two biodiversity hotspots — the Indo-Burma hotspot and the Eastern Himalayas,” says IISER botanist Vinita Gowda.


References

1. Prasanna, N. S. et al. Didymocarpus vickifunkiae (Gesneriaceae), a New Species from the Indo-Burma Hotspot and Lectotypification of D. aureoglandulosusSyst. Bot. 46, 229-234 (2021)