Having fun at the Master Naturalist Conference at TBarM Ranch
Master Naturalist Volunteer Discovers New Plant
Botanical Research Institute of Texas Identifies Plant New To Science
FORT WORTH – With more than 5,000 flowering plants native to Texas, the odds of anyone discovering a new species are slim to none. Texas Master Naturalist Volunteer Jeff Quayle of Fort Worth beat those odds in April (2000) when he discovered a plant new to science at Lake Mineral Wells State Park.
Quayle, a self-taught botanist, was hiking in the park when he found a plant that was unfamiliar. He recognized it was from the genus Senecio, but knew nothing else about the mysterious wildflower, described as a short-lived annual in the sunflower family that grows up to waist high and produces yellow flowers in spring.
Quayle took a sample back to the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) in Fort Worth. There it was examined by Dr. Ted Barkley, a BRIT research associate and professor emeritus of botany at Kansas State University. Barkley sent sample copies to experts around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, but no matches for the plant were found.
After considerable study, the plant was designated as Senecio quaylei T.M. Barkley. The scientific name has three elements: Senecio is the genus name, quaylei is the species name (after the discoverer), and “T.M. Barkley” is the name of the person who first described the new species. There is no common name for this plant, but Barkley says “Quayle’s ragwort” would be appropriate. It is a member of the sunflower family, the largest family of flowering plants, including sunflowers, goldenrods, sagebrushes, and ragweeds. The formal publication of the new species occurred December 19 in the current issue of the botanical journal SIDA, a scientific publication of BRIT.
Barkley says there are several reasons why the Senecio quaylei discovery is important. From a botanical science view, it shows subtle interactions among naturally occurring plant species that should be better understood if people are to manage our biological endowment wisely. For example, the fact that the plant produces only infertile seeds raises questions on whether it has pollinators (such as insects) that are only active during part of the year, or whether the lack of pollinators reflects a broader environmental problem. If the plant is just a remnant of a once widespread species, that may also indicate broader problems. Barkley says any discovery that adds hard data to the botanical knowledge base could potentially help develop new pharmaceuticals, aid genetic research into high-tech plant breeding, yield horticultural (gardening) uses, act as an indicator species to warn of environmental problems or provide other benefits.
“The discovery of a new species in a region close-to-home captivates the imagination,” said Barkley. “North Central Texas has been settled by European mankind for a century and a half, and it has been easy to assume that all of the plants growing spontaneously here are either recorded in the herbaria and the botanical literature, or else they are adventive weeds of recent introduction. A new species such as Senecio quaylei reminds us that the flora and fauna are dynamic things of endless fascination. It also underscores the value of citizen volunteers for scientific efforts.”
Quayle is one of 850 volunteers in the Texas Master Naturalist program cosponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. After training, these volunteers work with youth, adults, private landowners and other natural resource minded organizations to help advance the application of scientific resource management and develop public understanding of conservation.