Researcher Identifies Two New Violet Species In Central America

ATHENS, Ohio -- Naming a plant is almost as difficult a task for a botanist as naming a child is for a parent. Even harder is tracing the plant's family roots, something one Ohio University scientist has discovered from his studies of two newly identified Central American violet species.

"Right now, I don't know what group these species of violet belong to, but there is a chance they belong to a group of very primitive violets," said Harvey Ballard, an assistant professor of environmental and plant biology at Ohio University. "It's likely their group predates the last Ice Age in Central America."

The violets were discovered some time ago growing in parts of Central America, and were classified as existing species. But upon closer inspection of the specimens, Ballard determined the two violets were new species.

"These species have been overlooked for years and had been misclassified," Ballard said. "But after I studied them for awhile, I knew they were new species."

Once that finding was recorded, Ballard had to name his discoveries, a familiar job for him. Ballard has discovered more than half a dozen plant species in his career, including several in the United States and five in Mexico and Guatemala.

"It's never an easy job to come up with meaningful names for new species because you want to be original," he said. One of the newly discovered plants was particularly difficult, he said, because it lacked a striking physical characteristic that could be linked to its name.

Ballard contrived the name Hybanthus hespericlivus for this nondescript violet -- Hybanthus the Latin name for the genus it presently belongs in and hespericlivus meaning "western slope."

"This violet tended to grow on the western slope in the area of Costa Rica where it was found, and that was the only distinguishing characteristic I could think

Contact: Kelli Whitlock
Ohio University

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