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Newly discovered plant species store manganese in leaves

Leiden scientists have discovered a new plant genus with two new species at a potential nickel mine site in Indonesia. Remarkable characteristic of the plants: they store manganese in their leaves.

At the Wedabaai on the island of Halmahera (North Moluccas), entrepreneurs wanted to open a new nickel mine. But before they got their permission, they had to perform an environmental impact assessment. The inventory of the flora and fauna present revealed a surprising discovery.

Brand new plant genus

Leiden researchers did not identify one, but two new species in the plants from the site. They could not classify them into existing plant genera, but did conclude that both new species belong to the same genus. That new genus was given the name Weda. The species are published in the Journal of Systematics and Evolution. First author of the publication is Naturalis researcher and Professor of Biology Peter van Welzen, botanical artist Esmée Winkel, associated with the Leiden Hortus botanicus, made illustrations of the new species.

It's a rare discovery, says Roderick Bouman, who is a PhD candidate at the Hortus botanicus and co-author of the study. 'Sometimes an existing group is broken up based on DNA research. But discovering an unknown group, as was the case here, is very rare.'

Not nickel, but manganese

Bouman himself does a lot of genetic kinship research, for example, he is working on reclassifying the genus Phyllantus. For the Weda study, he also helped with the DNA data of the new species.

Other researchers analysed the metals in the leaf material, he says, which resulted in another surprise. The reason for the metal analysis was that the plants were found in an area with heavy metals, in particular nickel. 'And metal uptake is quite common in the plant family to which they belong. So this was analysed, but then it turned out that the plant stores more manganese and almost no nickel. This has also been independently confirmed by another study. The amount is not enough to use the plants as a commercial source of manganese, though. '

Euphorbia family

The new genus was classified in the plant family Euphorbiaceae, commonly called spurge. This family also contains species such as the rubber tree, cassava and poinsettia, which is popular at Christmas time. The biggest distinguishing feature for Weda as a group is the combination of leaves with basal glands, long-stemmed inflorescences that have two bracts under the flowers, says Bouman. The two types can be distinguished on the attachment of petiole to the leaf, flower color and the size of bracts (a type of bracts) with the flowers.


The genus name Weda refers to the location of the new species: the Weda Bay. The name of species Weda fragaroides comes from the scientific name for the strawberry, Fragaria, because the flower base of the male flowers resembles that of the strawberry, which later forms a (mock) fruit. The second species owes its name to the colour of its petals: lutea is Latin for yellow. In addition, according to good scientific practice, the species names are completed with the name of the discoverer, so that the full names are: Weda fragaroides Welzen and Weda lutea Welzen.

Top picture: Weda fragarioides, copyright: Journal of Systematics and Evolution
Picture below: Weda lutea, copyright: Journal of Systematics and Evolution

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