Botanists discover leylandii's long-lost cousin

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The Independent Online

Botanists searching the remote mountain jungles of Vietnam for rare orchids have stumbled upon a rather more unwelcome specimen – the long-lost cousin of that scourge of suburbia, the leylandii hedge.

Botanists searching the remote mountain jungles of Vietnam for rare orchids have stumbled upon a perhaps unwelcome specimen ­ the long-lost cousin of that scourge of suburbia, the leylandii hedge.

The discovery of the new conifer, only the second species of pine to be found in the past 53 years, now means that the scientific name for the leylandii will have to be amended to take its new relative into account.

Alijos Farjon, a leading conifer specialist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in Surrey, said that the new species of pine was the "missing link" between the true cypress trees and the false cypresses.

An international team of scientists, including Kew's resident orchid expert, Phillip Cribb, found the pineliving on an isolated mountain ridge in northern Vietnam, an area remarkable for its rich wildlife.

When fully mature, the small tree has a highly unusual foliage consisting of two types of leaves ­ both needles and scale leaves ­ that do not normally grow together on other adult conifers.

Dr Farjon has confirmed that the pine is not just a new species but that it belongs to a new genus and has named it Xanthocyparis vietnamensis, or the golden Vietnamese cypress.

Apart from the extraordinary Wollemi pine that was recently found growing in New South Wales, Australia, it is the first truly new conifer to be discovered since 1948.

The botanists believe that the golden Vietnamese cypress represents the last vestiges of an extinct pine forest that extended from South-east Asia to North America many millions of years ago.

As a result of the discovery of the conifer, its closest relative, the Nootka cypress in North America, is also being transferred to the same genus.

However, this means that the scientific name for the leylandii ­ a hybrid cross between the Nootka and the Monteray pine ­ also has to be amended.

Instead of being called Cupressocyparis leylandii, the much-loathed hybrid will now go under the slightly shorter name of Cuprocyparis leylandii.

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