A cheeky new tree discovery made in Guinea

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Talbotiella cheekii should have captured the attention of botanists years ago, but this large ornamental rainforest tree was only discovered in 2015, by botanist Martin Cheek. Its common name is Linsonyi or Wonkifong wouri khorohoi, meaning ‘tree with hard wood from Wonkifong’.

Photo: Xander van der Burgt

Linsonyi has subsequently been found growing next to the main road between Guinea’s capital of Conakry and the town of Kindia. “It is a mystery why the tree had never been collected by botanists,” says Xander van der Burgt, curator and field officer for Africa and Madagascar at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

“Science still has to fully evaluate tree biodiversity in the high rainfall areas of Africa,” he adds. “It is challenging to identify trees that are over 40 metres tall, that occur in low densities and only flower for a couple of weeks a year.”

Photo: Xander van der Burgt with Talbotiella cheekii flowers.

Google Earth was vital in mapping the distribution of the tree. Talbotiella cheekii occurs in a relatively small area, but it is very common in the remaining forest patches within its distribution, growing in large groups along rocky stream banks and rocky hill slopes.

It prefers altitudes of 100–600m above sea level and general precipitation of about 2 800mm per year. It produces prolific red and white flowers at the end of the dry season in April. Flowers are vital in the identification process and can be difficult to collect due to the short flowering period. Van der Burgt was the first to collect the flowers in 2017.

Photo: Xander van der Burgt

The Talbotiella cheekii occurs from Gabon to Nigeria and in Ghana, but are always rare. Five species are endemic to Cameroon. “It is remarkable that a Talbotiella species has now been found much further west, in Guinea,” van der Burgt adds.

Seeds are spread by ballistic dispersal. When a mature pod is exposed to sunshine or dry air, it dries and eventually the tension between the two pods results in the two halves of the pod blasting off in opposite directions.

“The seeds germinate a week after dispersal.  “The biggest threat is urban development, agriculture and annual dry-season fire,” says van der Burgt.

Written by Georgina Lockwood 

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