Europe and Central Asia
21 Mar 2017

Discovery! New plant species in Romania

Ferula mikraskythiana (c) A. Szabó Anna
By Ovidiu Bufnila

Introducing Ferula mikraskythiana (Apiaceae), a whole new species of flowering plant recently discovered in Romania.

Ladies and gentlemen! SOR/BirdLife Romania is proud to present the latest cellular sensation to hit the botanical world – Ferula mikraskythiana! That’s right, scientists have now confirmed that a brand new species of flowering plant has been discovered in Romania.

The new discovery is a member of the Apiaceae family – a large family of mostly aromatic flowering plants, counting more than 3,700 species and including culinary favourites such as celery, carrot, parsley, coriander, cumin, dill and fennel. The specific epithet of this new member refers to the ancient Greek name of the historical region Scythia Minor or Lesser Scythia (Mikrá Skythia or Μικρὰ Σκυθία) where this species was found. A region known today as Dobrogea. Its closest relative is Eriosynaphe longifolia, a rare species from the Pontic-Caspian steppe of Ukraine, southern Russia, and western Kazakhstan. It was previously thought that the latter was alone in its genus, but this discovery shows that, in fact, both species belong to a broader Ferula genus.

 

Ferula mikraskythiana (c) A. Szabó Anna

 

The species was discovered in 2014, when biologists Mátis Attila and Havadtői Krisztina were conducting field-work for a SOR/BirdLife Romania project. At first, they thought the species was only new to the Romanian flora, but after some research, found nothing similar in the neighbouring Bulgarian flora. And so, they collected some leaves and tried to identify the plant. No luck. Step in bio-nanoscience expert Bartha László from the Babeș Bolyai University (UBB) of Cluj who, following genetic investigations, concluded that this mysterious plant was indeed a new species of ‘Ferula’. Then, the university’s phytogeography expert, Alexandru S. Bădărău, suggested a connection with Eriosynaphe longifolia. All that remained was to obtain samples of the latter (provided by Sramkó Gábor, a Hungarian colleague conveniently doing field-work in Russia) and the mystery was solved!

 

Ferula mikraskythiana (c) A. Szabó Anna

 

Subsequent research shows this species to be endemic to Romania, with a very small population (172 individuals in 2015) restricted to a few steppe grassland enclaves within Dumbrăveni Forest Nature Reserve. The species should therefore be classified as ‘Endangered’ according to the IUCN.  Indeed, the reason the species managed to survive is because it was protected in a remote and isolated nature reserve. Across most of Dobrogea, similar steppe habitats have long since disappeared due to destructive effects of overgrazing livestock.

So let us hope that this discovery – and the genuine excitement it has elicited across Romania in the media – teaches us a valuable lesson about the importance of protecting our natural habitats.

 

Ovidiu Bulfina is Head of Communications for SOR/BirdLife Romania

To read more about the science of this exciting discovery, check out Mátis Attila’s article in the journal Phytotaxa.


Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.