Two new species of Magnolia discovered

There are many perks of our work, but none quite so magical as discovering a new species.

And so, 2023 ended joyfully with the discovery of two new species of Magnolia near our farms in Honduras.

Magnolia plants in the tropics aren’t the garden shrub we’re used to in the global north – they’re enormous. Magnolias are in fact one of the most ancient flowering plants in the world, and fossil records show that they once existed in Europe, North America and Asia over 100 million years ago. Dinosaurs walked among them and feasted on their leaves and flowers. They existed before bees, and so they were pollinated by beetles. Beetles eat pollen rather than nectar, and to this day these flowers carry no nectar – just a sticky and aromatic pollen to attract their original symbiotic diners.

The new species have been found by Dr. Ciro Nabarro who is former Director of the Lancetilla Botanic Garden.  Lancetilla was founded by Dr. Wilson Popenoe and is the site of a famous study by Dr Paul Standley:  The Flora of the Lancetilla Valley, Honduras, in the 1920s. Back then, the forest there was fairly pristine.

One of the new Magnolia species is M. cirorum; named after Ciro. We collected its seeds, but all failed to germinate: we suspect they had been affected by this year’s drought. The same trees are developing fruit now; so we have high hopes of trying again.  The second species is M. atlántida and we believe we have been the first to successfully germinate it.

Abraham and Inga Foundation are both mentioned in the species citation because of the role that Abraham played in its discovery and description; together with the fact that we are the first successfully to germinate any Magnolia species in quantity back in 2019 (70,000 M. yoroconte).  

Next, the species have to be certified by a taxonomic committee of experts – specialists in a particular family or sub-family. A professional botanist has to submit full descriptions, locations, dried samples etc. These samples will be sent to a number of botanical gardens for verification. 

It’s highly likely these two new species are endemic to Pico Bonito National Park, a last remnant of rainforest in this area. This certainly adds poignancy to our work, doing everything we possibly can to preserve these extraordinary habitats with untold numbers of species, many of which we haven’t even discovered yet.