Tree believed to be extinct rediscovered in Brazil 185 years later

A discovery in northeastern Brazil has left scientists astounded after they found a rare tree that had not been spotted for nearly two centuries. 

The Ilex Sapiiformis tree, which can grow to between eight and twelve meters in height, was identified in Pernambuco state by an expedition team working with Re: Wild, an environmental group that includes Leonardo DiCaprio as one of its founders.

Scottish biologist George Gardner first identified the species, also known as Ilex Pernambuco, in 1838, but since then, no further sightings have been recorded, which started the belief it went extinct.

During a six-day research project that took place recently, scientists found four of the trees growing on the bank of a small river in the town of Igarasu, near the state capital of Recife. The team traced the small white flowers which characterize this species.

Christina Biggs, the Extinct Species Lead at Re: Wild, said it was remarkable to find an Ilex pernambuco tree again in an urban area of about six million people. “The tree is an excellent example of the importance of continuing research,” she said.


(Photo by Fred JORDAO / Wild Project / AFP)

The team’s mission leader Gustavo Martinelli, said that the group now hopes to launch a program to produce this species. The discovery was proof that many rare species are still being found by scientists, he added, and that it underscored the importance of ecological research.

He added that the sighting showed that it is essential to continue monitoring and cataloging the unique flora and fauna that exist in the world’s different regions.

It is hoped that the discovery of the Ilex Pernambuco can serve as a catalyst for similar projects around the world, which can help to identify and conserve other rare plant species that are under threat of going extinct.


Photo by Kristina Paukshtite (pexels)

There is a growing concern across the globe about the impact of climate warming on plant and animal biodiversity, and according to a recent report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of endangered species, climate change is accelerating the rate at which many plant species go extinct.

The report warns that more than half (56%) of tree species in the Amazon Basin are threatened.

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