New Heart-Shaped Hawaiian Fruits Discovered
DAVID GILICHINSKY, PNAS
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Sources: BBC, University of Illinois, Arizona State University, Straight Dope, CDC
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Botanists have just discovered a new Hawaiian plant with heart-shaped fruits, a study reports.
The discovery, announced just before Valentine’s Day, adds to the growing number of known plants within the coffee family (Rubiaceae). The new plant, described in the journal PhytoKeys, has been romantically named Coprosma cordicarpa, meaning the Coprosma (a type of flowering plant) with hearts.
The researchers even write that the find resulted from a “loving adventure with Hawaiian biodiversity.” It began with Hawaii State botanist and co-author Maggie Sporck-Koehler noticing a plant with little red fruits growing in the Kanaio Natural Area Reserve on the island of Maui.
“I was very taken with it,” she said in a press release. “It seemed different than any other (Coprosma) foliosas I’ve seen.”
Intrigued, she shared the find with lead author Jason Cantley, a Coprosma expert who was then at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (now at Bucknell University).
The two looked at similar plants at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu, but could not find a match. They strongly suspected that the plant belonged to a new species that had never been documented before. Before officially announcing the find, however, more research was needed.
They decided to travel to Maui, bringing co-author Marian Chau of the Lyon Arboretum’s Hawaiian Rare Plant Program into the project. Chau is the program’s seed conservation laboratory manager.
Cantley explained, “We needed to get all our ducks in a row, making sure we knew what we were looking for before we flew to Maui. Part of that planning was to think about the long-term conservation of Coprosma cordicarpa from the start. That’s one reason it was necessary to bring Dr. Chau into this project.”
The researchers’ suspicions were correct, as the plant was confirmed not only as a new species, but also as a very rare one that’s only known so far to be on Maui. In fact, the species has already been added to the IUCN Red List of threatened species.
The hopeful news is that 609 seeds from 32 plants were collected, which the researchers say will help to preserve the biodiversity of the heart-shaped plant for many years to come.
It should be noted that the plump, red fruits will not wind up in your morning mug, even though the plants are related to coffee.
While birds and other animals eat the fruits, facilitating the natural spread of the plants, many Coprosma fruits are known for two very unromantic characteristics: Some smell like dung, and others have a potent laxative effect.