“No parking” sign is new species of tree

March 6, 2009

A previously unknown species of tree discovered in Devon has been named the No Parking Whitebeam.

Long known to Watersmeet residents as the “No Parking Tree” because of the sign affixed to its trunk, botanists have given it the Linnaean binomial Sorbus admonitor. Classically-educated readers may now indulge in a knowing chuckle.

The tree is one of fourteen newly-discovered species of rowan and whitebeam classified by botanists from the Universities of Wales, Bristol, Exeter and Oxford, and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

Novel plants don’t ordinarily get the coverage afforded newly-discovered species of animals, but are of course no less important in a biodiversity assessment. The IUCN Red List puts the total number of described plant species at around 299,000 (compared with 61,000 vertebrates and 1.2 million invertebrates). 3% of plants are classed as “threatened”.

In 2007, the BBC reported the discovery of a new species of tree in Scotland. It too is a Rowan-Whitebeam hybrid, though Sorbus seems particularly susceptible to hybridisation, and debate continues over whether they can be classed separate species.

The present study used genetic evidence to tease apart the trees’ heritage.