New plants are given scientific names based on which family they fit into, or which plants they share physical characteristics in. Generally Latin-based, these plant names are used internationally to identify flora, but sometimes this naming process isn’t so simple. A new plant with bright orange fruit was discovered in Peru in 1973, but it was not until last week that the plant was finally given an official name.
Discovered by scientist Robin Foster in Manu National Park, the unique plant was sampled and sent to researchers, but nobody could seem to identify its foliage. Its characteristics fit into multiple different plant families, making it difficult to determine how it should be named and classified.
Part of the reason it took so long to name the plant is that without a family, it was difficult to know which specialists to deliver the plant to. That 1973 sample finally made its way to tropical plant scientists at Chicago’s Field Museum who tried to analyze the plant’s DNA, but because it was so old, they were unable to get any results. Fortunately, Peruvian scientist Patricia Álvarez-Loayza was able to collect fresh samples in 2015 and the Field Museum team tried again. It turns out that the plant is part of the Picramniaceae family. Now that the plant has an official name, Aenigmanu alvareziae, it finally officially exists in the eyes of science.
Now, researchers are excited to begin investigating its potential beneficial properties, including perhaps using it as an anti-cancer drug as others from its family have been. The official name also allows conservationists to classify the species’ extinction risk and put protection measures in place.
The official classification of the plant has been published in the journal Taxon, detailed by study author Nancy Hensold. The common name for the plant has been appropriately designated as “Mystery of Manu.”