Exotic flora and fauna ranging from a giant Asian carnivorous plant to a tiny Australian goblin spider already bear the name of the UK's favourite naturalist. Now, finally, a home-grown plant, to be found clinging to mountainous outcrops in the Brecon Beacons, has been named in honour of Sir David Attenborough.
The wild flower, henceforth to be known as Attenborough's hawkweed (Hieracium attenboroughianum), is the first non-extinct British species to be given the presenter's name. Sir David said he was delighted at the honour. "I am thrilled that my name has been given to the delightful new species of hawkweed," he said. "Bestowing a name on a new species is surely one of the greatest of biological compliments and I am truly grateful. It is an added joy that Hieracium attenboroughianum should be so beautiful and live in such a lovely part of the country." Tim Rich, the plant taxonomist who named the plant, said: "Finding a new species is a really exciting moment and something that you dream of as a naturalist.
"I decided to name this special little plant after David Attenborough as he inspired me to study ecology when I was 17. This is a personal thank you for the years of fascination he has given me going to different places to search for new things."
?A team including Rich first came upon the plant in 2004 when they were looking for the rare summit hawkweed on Pen-y-Fan in the Brecon Beacons, the largest mountain in southern Britain. They happened upon the new hawkweed on the neighbouring peak of Cribyn, flowering profusely on the rocky ledges, safe from the sheep which graze the mountains. It took another 10 years of study and comparison with related species to be sure it was new.
The Attenborough hawkweed has probably evolved in the Brecon Beacons since the last ice age. The hawkweeds are close relatives of dandelions and have similar-looking flowers. In late June and early July the hawkweed colours the rocks yellow with its delicate flowers and.can be easily seen from the main path. Joe Daggett, countryside manager for the National Trust, which manages Cribyn and Pen-y-Fan, said: "It is amazing to think that this is the only place in the world where this plant occurs and that the evolution of a species can occur at such a local level. The inaccessible rocks where it's found should ensure its continued survival into the future."
It has been quite a week for the Attenborough name. On Wednesday it emerged that a whole genus of endangered plants will bear the naturalist's name. Identified by a team of researchers in Gabon, the Sirdavidia flowering plants are believed to be the first plant genus - a taxonomical ranking one step above a species - named after the broadcaster.
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