07 August 2011

Fabulous news: Nepenthes thorelii has been rediscovered

Time to celebrate! Botanist François Mey has confirmed that Nepenthes thorelii, a tropical pitcher plant native to Vietnam, has been rediscovered. This species was first collected in the mid-1800s, then formally named in 1909, but has most recently only been known from the earlier herbarium specimens. All specimens in cultivation that were labeled N. thorelii were revealed to be related, but did not share key morphological characteristics with the type specimens of the species. And so, it was thought that N. thorelii could have been extinct both in the wild and in cultivation.

Then, in 2009, thoreliigate happened. Vietnamese growers uploaded photos to one of the carnivorous plant forums, showing them holding plants that François identified as true N. thorelii. At one point, the Vietnamese growers refused to cooperate further. When François and other experts searched for the plants at the type location and in the exact spot of the photos, no plants matching the description of N. thorelii were located. It's really quite sad as these plants were clearly poached and sold.

But now François, along with botanist Alastair Robinson, is back in Vietnam and has successfully rediscovered a population of N. thorelii. As Alastair notes, this is the first time in 102 years that qualified botanists have been able to see the plants in situ and collect proper herbarium specimens. Their initial reports and some beautiful photographs can be found here. According to the comments in the forum posts, there are about 100 plants of both genders at this site, located on military land, so chances are that it will remain protected.

Congratulations to all involved! Work like this is very valuable in conservation and taxonomy. Truly fabulous news.