Gasteranthus extinctus, a South American wildflower that got its Latin name after botanists thought it was already extinct, might have to be renamed Gasteranthus vivus. Researchers say the flower was seen for the first time in nearly 40 years during a search of intact patches of primary rainforest in western Ecuador, where more than 97% of the flower's habitat has been destroyed, the Guardian reports. They managed to find living specimens of the plant, a forest floor-dweller with neon orange flowers, within a few hours of searching one of the tiny islands of surviving forest, using drawings and images of dried specimens for reference.
Unique plants and animals in the Centinela Ridge were wiped out in the 1980s by clear-cutting so devastating that sudden extinctions when a habitat is destroyed are now known as "Centinelan extinctions," Forbes reports. "Centinela is a mythical place for tropical botanists,” researcher Nigel CA Pitman said in a Field Museum press release. "But because it was described by the top people in the field, no one really double checked the science. No one went back to confirm that the forest was gone and those things were extinct."
"We walked into Centinela thinking it was going to break our heart, and instead we ended up falling in love," Pitman says. "Finding G. extinctus was great, but what we’re even more excited about is finding some spectacular forest in a place where scientists had feared everything was gone." The team is now working with Ecuadorian conservationists to protect the remaining fragments of forest. Researcher Dawson White says the find shows that there's value in preserving even small, degraded areas of tropical forests. "New species are still being found, and we can still save many things that are on the brink of extinction," he says. (Read more discoveries stories.)