Researchers Discover New Plant Species In Boise Foothills

Sep 25, 2017

Professors at Boise State University and the College of Idaho have found a new species of plant that’s been hiding in plain sight in the Boise Foothills.

It’s a non-descript, yellow flowering plant in the Foothills, commonly found in Military Reserve Park. Jim Smith, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Boise State University, says it’s been around for thousands of years, but no one really knew what it was.

Smith says people called it biscuit-root, which is in the genus Lomatium. But they didn’t know which species of biscuit-root it was. And they couldn’t tell, just by looking at it.

“Things that look really similar sometimes are not closely related at all when we [analyze its DNA] and some things that are very different are actually closely related,” Smith says.

So they dug deeper and broke down the genome of the plant and found it was an undiscovered species. That’s important to know, says Smith.

“If we think this is all one big group, without understanding that these are different species and different entities and evolving differently from each other, we won’t see those differences that are there,” he says.

The scientists get to provide the Greek or Latin name for the plant. They are auctioning off the opportunity to name the new species -- with bids starting at $10,000 -- and will use the money raised to support more DNA research into plants like this one.

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