Discovering a new species and having a species named after you has been the pursuit of many plant hunters and scientists over the centuries, and if all botanists’ dreams could come true, we would all have a story like this one. We offer our endless congratulations and jealous thoughts to lab members, Dr Annemarie Heiduk and David Styles, on their discovery and description of the morphologically intriguing and rare novelty, Ceropegia heidukiae.
Ceropegia species (Apocynaceae-Asclepiadoideae) are world-famous for their sophisticated and functionally complex flowers, with five petals fused into a tubular structure which functions as a pitfall for pollinating flies. South Africa is one of the centres of diversity for this genus of plants, but only six new species have been described since the 1980s. Now, a new species and a real gem for South Africa has been discovered by our very own lab members, Dr Annemarie Heiduk and David Styles and is even named after Anne.
Anne joined our lab as a postdoc in 2018 and has been studying the chemical ecology and pollination biology of Ceropegia and related plants for more than 12 years. Her research has made a significant contribution to our understanding of the deceptive pollination strategies in these functionally specialized fly-pollinated plants. In fact, many of us consider her to be the world expert on Ceropegia pollination and scent chemistry!
David joined our lab as a PhD candidate in 2019. He is a well-renowned botanist with much experience and exceptional knowledge on the flora of South Africa, and in particular within KwaZulu-Natal. His fascination for Sisyranthus, a small South African genus closely related to Ceropegia, has driven him to pursue a PhD. He has discovered and described a number of plant species already, some of which bear his name. Thanks to David’s knowledge, the description of Ceropegia heidukiae includes detailed information on vegetation types, habitat and ecology. And thanks to his amazing photography skills, the astonishing beauty of this novel species is wonderfully captured.
One can either find Anne spending a considerable amount of time tinkering with flies and scent chemicals in the lab, or in the field studying the plants in their natural habitat. To spot the many tiny and often inconspicuous Asclepes she works on, she has developed an excellent eye for spotting them. But, of course, it never once crossed her mind that she would find a new species! This completely unexpected discovery may be what can be considered one of the most beautiful Ceropegia species known in South Africa (which is quite a claim considering the other exquisite species in the genus). Discovering such an intriguing and unusual Ceropegia species, and having it named after her, can only be considered an appropriate acknowledgement of Anne’s scientific contribution to our understanding of the evolution of these amazing plants through her hard work and dedication.
From Anne: “I was out in the field with David hiking through the breath-taking landscape of Ngome. When I first spotted the flower, I immediately knew I was looking at something no one had ever seen before. I called David over and he was just as surprised and excited as I was by what was in front of us. It was so special and almost surreal – I will certainly not forget that moment for the rest of my life! I am exceptionally grateful that this beautiful example and flagship species of Ceropegia has been given my name (which was David’s idea) and thereby immortalized me in botanical nomenclature. I personally consider this a highlight of my career.”
Ceropegia heidukiae is not only exceptionally good-looking but is also exceptionally rare as it is endemic to a restricted area in KwaZulu-Natal and its habitat, Northern Zululand Mistbelt Grassland, is considered an endangered vegetation type. Ulrich Meve (specialist in the taxonomy of Apocynaceae-Asclepiadoideae) and David Styles described the species in a recently published article. In their species description, they assessed the conservation status of Ceropegia heidukiae as being Critically Endangered (CR). The publication of this rare novelty will hopefully encourage appropriate conservation measures to preserve this landscape and to ensure that this species can enjoy its glory without being threatened by extinction.
Text: Annemarie Heiduk and Hannah Butler.
Photos: David Styles