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China Daily Global / 2024-03 / 29 / Page004

New species of Salvia discovered in Hunan

By CHEN LIANG | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-03-29 00:00

Named for county it was found in, herb is part of widely distributed subgroup

Editor's Note: As protection of the planet's flora, fauna and resources becomes increasingly important, China Daily is publishing a series of stories to illustrate the country's commitment to safeguarding the natural world.

In August 2022, a scientific exploration team trekked into the forests of Guidong county, Hunan province, an expedition that ultimately led to the discovery of a new species of Salvia (commonly known as sage) that was recently reported in a botanical journal.

The team, which consisted of engineers Huang Yanbo and Ge Binjie from the Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden, as well as researcher Qi Zhechen from Zhejiang Sci-Tech University, aimed to explore the wild habitat of Salvia, the largest genus within the mint family that boasts nearly 1,000 species distributed globally.

Guided by Huang Cunzhong, an official with the local natural resources administration, the team ventured into Qiyunfeng National Forest Park. It was there, on the forest's fringe near a stream in a valley, that they stumbled upon a distinctive Salvia population.

Over the next two years, the researchers dedicated themselves to thorough investigations and experimental studies of this population both in its natural setting and in a laboratory. The team's collaborative efforts with both domestic and international experts involved detailed morphological and molecular data analyses.

Their findings revealed this perennial herb belongs to a particular subgroup known as Glutinaria. This subgroup consists of six known Salvia species that exhibit a fascinating disjunct distribution, spanning from Europe, Central Asia and the Himalayas to East China, the Korean Peninsula, and Japan.

They compared the new species with the six known ones in the Glutinaria subgroup. What set the new one apart was its distinctive corolla shape, heart-shaped leaf bases, notably larger leaves and a unique characteristic not commonly observed in the East Asian species — it exhibits flowers in either pale purple or pale yellow. Furthermore, DNA evidence also suggested the ubiquitous status of the newfound population.

After integrating all evidence, the team confirmed it as a new member of the Salvia genus, naming it Salvia guidongensis.

It is named after the location of its first discovery, Guidong county, where it is currently exclusively distributed, making it an endemic species to this region.

The discovery was published in the international botanical journal Frontiers in Plant Science on March 5.

"China is a significant hub of Salvia diversity, boasting nearly 100 species," said Huang Yanbo, the lead author of the article. "The vast morphological diversity, from root to stamen, coupled with its varied habitats makes taxonomic studies of East Asian Salvia a formidable challenge."

The discovery and research on Salvia guidongensis serve to enrich the diversity of the genus and expand its germplasm resources within the country, Huang Yanbo said. Furthermore, its unique endemic presence in Central China effectively bridges a gap in the distribution of the Glutinaria subgroup.

"It provides a new perspective and evidence for understanding the biogeographical evolutionary history among the European-Central Asian-East Asian flora," he said.

This groundbreaking work was the result of a joint effort by 12 researchers from eight domestic and foreign institutions.

China boasts the richest diversity of East Asian Salvia, with 84 species in the country, accounting for over 80 percent of the species in the region.

In recent years, significant advancements have been made in the research of the genus, including new taxonomic classifications and the discovery of novel species. According to Huang Yanbo, these ongoing developments underscore the challenges in the phylogenetic and taxonomic studies of Salvia — especially in underexplored areas and ambiguous groups — and concerns about their conservation status.

The Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden has been at the forefront of conducting comprehensive surveys and research on the genus, leading to the identification of several new taxonomic groups.

Currently, the garden has amassed a collection of 150 Salvia species and varieties, including 75 from within China and 65 from abroad. This collection, which totals 1,752 germplasm resources, positions the garden as the premier repository of Salvia germplasm in China and the broader East Asia region. These invaluable materials and data derived from these resources have significantly bolstered efforts in conservation, breeding, scientific research and the practical application of the Salvia species.




Ge Bingjie (from left), Qi Zechen, Huang Yanbo and Huang Cunzhong observe a cluster of Salvia guidongensis at Qiyunfeng National Forest Park in Guidong county, Hunan province, in 2022. DENG RENXIANG/FOR CHINA DAILY



A pale yellow flower of Salvia guidongensis. CHINA DAILY



A pale purple flower of Salvia guidongensis. CHINA DAILY



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