BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: Sci/Tech
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Sunday, 25 November, 2001, 10:57 GMT
New tree found in Vietnam
Long shot of mountains   RBG Kew
The mountains of northern Vietnam: Remote, but the tree is still in danger
Alex Kirby

An international team of scientists has found a new conifer in the forests of northern Vietnam.

The tree, a new species in a new genus, has been named the Golden Vietnamese cypress.

Its discoverers say it is a missing link between true and false cypresses.

But although it is new to science, the tree is already critically endangered, and only a few individuals exist.

The team that discovered the tree included scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK; the Vietnamese Institute of Terrestrial Ecology in Hanoi; the Komarov Botanical Institute in St Petersburg, Russia; and the Missouri Botanical Garden, US.

They were in the area to study the orchids of the karst mountains of northern Vietnam.

Waiting for certainty

The new cypress is a small tree with unusual foliage - the mature trees carry both needle leaves and a scale-like form, which are usually found only in juvenile individuals.

The scientists made their discovery in October 1999, but waited till now to confirm it.

Kew's conifer specialist, Aljos Farjon, told BBC News Online: "I was shown some slides of what they'd found, and I have to admit that at first I dismissed the possibility that it could be anything new.

"Then I saw a specimen. But I decided I needed to see another before I could make up my mind.

Golden Vietnamese cypress   RBG Kew
The mix of foliage types is rare
"The team went back to the area in February 2001 and brought back another specimen.

"I was excited to realise what it was, both for the sake of the new species and because it starts answering a few funny questions.

"The nearest relative of the new tree is the Nootka cypress of North America, itself a parent of Leyland's cypress, known to gardeners and loathed by many of them.

"Now we may be able to find out why the Leyland, although a hybrid, is sterile.

Slowdown hope

"Because we now know the Nootka cypress is not exactly what we'd thought, we're having to give both it and the Leyland new scientific names.

"The Leyland's new name is a bit shorter. Perhaps that will mean it stops growing so fast."

The Golden Vietnamese cypress, Xanthocyparis vietnamensis, is the first new conifer found since the Wollemi pine's discovery in Australia seven years ago.

Before that, there had been no new conifers described since 1948.

But Xanthocyparis is in trouble. It is naturally rare, found only on limestone ridges in a small area close to the Chinese border.

And the local people like to use its fragrant wood for building shrines and making coffins. Only a few semi-mature and coppiced trees exist.

The golden cypress is the latest in a line of newly-discovered species in south-east Asia.

Science team in field   RBG Kew
The new tree's discoverers

Images courtesy of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

See also:

26 Feb 01 | South Asia
New bird discovered in Sri Lanka
15 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
First photos of rarest rhino
01 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
Leaf deer takes a bow
Links to more Sci/Tech stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Sci/Tech stories