Plant hunter’s new discovery named after Sir David Attenborough

A new species of wild flower, Hieracium attenboroughianum, Attenborough’s Hawkweed, which was found a decade ago in the central Brecon Beacons in South Wales has been named in honour of Sir David Attenborough.

Hieracium attenboroughianum ( Attenborough’s Hawkweed) flowers in the summer and can be found on a rocky ledge in the central Brecon Beacons.  Picture credit: Tim Tic

Hieracium attenboroughianum (Attenborough’s Hawkweed) flowers in the summer and can be found on a rocky ledge in the central Brecon Beacons. Picture credit: Tim Rich

This is the first time that a new plant species found in the UK has been named after the world famous naturalist and TV presenter.

Dr Tim Rich, the plant taxonomist who named the new species, 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 found in the mountains of the Brecon Beacons 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.”

The Attenborough Hawkweed is one of a group of closely related plants which belong to the daisy family and has probably evolved in the Brecon Beacons since the last ice age. The hawkweeds are close relatives of dandelions and have similar looking flowers.

Attenborough’s Hawkweed occurs on rocky ledges on Cribyn, one of three spectacular peaks of the central Brecon Beacons which belong to the National Trust.

In late June/early July the hawkweed colours the rocks yellow with its delicate dandelion like flowers and can be easily seen from the main path up to Cribyn.

Joe Daggett, National Trust Countryside Manager, 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.”

The new plant was first studied in 2004 when Joe Daggett, Graham Motley, Tim Rich and Paul Smith found it whilst looking for the rare Summit Hawkweed, which was found on the adjacent Pen-y-fan.

More than 300 plants of the Attenborough’s Hawkweed were found flowering profusely on the rocky ledges, safe from the sheep which graze the mountains. It took another ten years of study and comparison with related species to be sure it was new.

Commenting on the naming of the Hawkweed after him, Sir David Attenborough, said: “I am thrilled that my name has been given to the delightful new species of hawkweed discovered in the Brecon Beacons.

“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.”

David Attenborough has eleven plants and animals named after him, including a giant pitcher plant from the Philippines and an Indonesian beetle. Most recently he has had a plant genus named after him, identified by a team of researchers in Gabon, Africa. However Attenborough’s Hawkweed is the only living British species that has his name.

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