(c) 2009, Los Angeles Times
As many as 10,000 new species of plants, animals and insects are discovered each year, but usually they are isolated individuals or small clusters of specimens hidden away in forests or other isolated areas. Often they are small specimens that are easily overlooked.
But on recent visits to Ethiopia, Swedish botanist Mats Thulin discovered a new species of tree that covers an area of more than 3,100 square miles, an area the size of the island of Crete.
Botanist David J. Mabberley of Britain's Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew described the new tree in a report Friday in the journal Science, noting that it probably has been overlooked by botanists because few have visited the region where Ethiopia's Ogaden National Liberation Front is fighting for self-rule.
The area is also difficult to get to, he said, and the trees can be seen from drivable roads in only a few places.
The newly identified tree, called Acacia fumosa, grows to about 18 feet to 20 feet tall, with a canopy that spreads 24 feet to 30 feet in diameter. It sprouts pink flowers during the dry season when it is leafless. It differs from closely related species in the color of its flowers and in its gray, smooth bark, among other things.
The total number of trees in the region "must be in the millions," Mabberley wrote.
People living in the sparsely populated region are familiar with the tree, he noted, but have no uses for it other than as firewood. He speculated, however, that gum from the tree might be used in foods and glues.
The discovery was a result of the Flora of Somalia project established to look for new plants in the region. So far, researchers have discovered and described more than 400 new species of flowering plants in the country.