Rio de Janeiro:
A small species of holly last seen nearly two centuries ago and feared to be extinct has been boldly rediscovered in an urban area in northeastern Brazil, scientists said Tuesday. The tree, “Ilex sapiiformis,” was found in the town of Igarassu in Pernambuco state by an expedition that combed the region for six days in hopes of finding it, said the conservation group that supported the project, Re:wild, co-founded by Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio.
The tree, better known as Pernambuco holly, was first documented in Western science in 1838 by Scottish biologist George Gardner.
His collection was the only confirmed sighting – until the new expedition found four of the trees on March 22 on the banks of a small river in the town of Igarassu, just outside the state capital Recife.
“It is incredible that the Pernambuco holly has been rediscovered in a metropolitan area home to nearly six million people,” Christina Biggs, head of the Re:wild lost species program, said in a statement.
“We don’t often think that plants are lost to science because they don’t move like animals, but they are just as integral to the ecosystems in which they are native.”
The team found the plants after following a trail of small white flowers characteristic of the species.
“It seemed as if the world had stopped turning,” said expedition member Juliana Alencar.
“Nature surprises us. Finding a species that hasn’t been heard of in almost two centuries doesn’t happen every day. It was an incredible moment.”
The expedition leader, ecologist Gustavo Martinelli, said the group now hopes to start a breeding program for the tree.
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