The arduous trek covered countless miles, uphill, across rivers and deep into the tropical forest. 

In a clearing, just like plant explorers from hundreds of years before, Dr Mark Hughes and his team set up a tarpaulin to work under, pitched their tents and started a fire to make what every jungle adventurer needs most – a cup of tea. 

Around them were lush tropical forests thick with towering trees and plant life, alive with exotic creatures. 

Ahead lay the prospect of finding something that no-one before them had ever discovered – rare varieties of the hardy garden favourite, Begonias.

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For gardeners in the grip of a love-hate relationship with the waxy leaved bedding plants, the team’s discovery of new species of Begonias may not sound particularly thrilling. 

However, 19 new species of Begonia – including one sticky variety which, unlike the garden centre begonias found in many Scottish flower beds, has been found to be carnivorous – are among a remarkable list of new species of plants just confirmed by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

HeraldScotland: One of the identified plants is Begonia DroiseroidesOne of the identified plants is Begonia Droiseroides

The haul from a series of RBGE expeditions to a wide range of exotic locations around the world includes stunning gingers, varieties of fruits from the exotic mangosteen family and a minuscule moss, as well as the clutch 
of Begonias.

Among the new species are moe than a dozen that are regarded as being under threat from loss of habitat or climate change. Their discovery has sparked hopes that they can be saved for future generations.
While some of the plants were identified on the spot as previously unknown species, others posed a major scientific puzzle.

In many cases, cuttings and seeds were brought back to be nurtured and double-checked against countless catalogues and images. Eventually, in a process that would surely have blown the minds of the 18th  and 19th-century plant explorers, modern DNA techniques used to establish that they are, indeed, previously unknown species. 

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For some, the processes have spanned years of intricate detective work at specialist research facilities. 

The new species collated in the RBGE’s list were gathered during a year of research that saw its teams of scientists head to remote areas of Indonesia, Madagascar, Vietnam, the Philippines, India, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Thailand, Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

Among them are 12 species of Amomum that come from Zingiberaceae, the ginger family; 11 Cyrtandra, part of Gesneriaceae, which is part of the African Violet family; five species of exotic mangosteen fruit Garcinia; and 19 species of Begonia.

Along with the impressive list of new species, RBGE’s scientists and horticulturists are also awaiting confirmation on other recent collections from Borneo and Peru that are now growing in its Edinburgh Glasshouses, many of which are said to be “almost certainly new to science”.

While much closer to home, the new species include a never before listed native moss species Weissia wilsonii, which was found in Cornwall and grows to just 5mm tall. 

Spotted in only a few sites in England and Wales, RBGE research has found it has undergone a long-term decline in distribution and had been on the brink of disappearing.

HeraldScotland: The Cyrtandra kinhoii was collected on trip to SulawesiThe Cyrtandra kinhoii was collected on trip to Sulawesi

The expedition to Sumatra took tropical diversity scientist Dr Hughes and his team in the footsteps of 
19th century Scots botanist William Jack. His gruelling 1822 journey across difficult terrain and in defiance of warnings from terrified locals that he risked disturbing evil spirits, resulted in the discovery of eight species of Begonia.

Tragically, however, Aberdeen-born Jack would die within a year of his discovery and the bulk of his findings were destroyed by fire. 

Dr Hughes, who has spent two decades working on Begonias and searching for new species, described the RBGE’s list of new species as good news at a time when many plants are under threat. He added: “At least we know where these plants are and how threatened they are. That means we can do something about it. We can only conserve what we know. All of the species we describe get a full conservation assessment based on the level of threat. 

“Without having a name, many plants do not have a hope of surviving. In some ways, we are giving these plants a voice.”

RBGE has a Living Collection of 13,500 plant species, including some of the world’s rarest plants and many which are new to science. Its scientists and horticulturists work in more than 35 countries globally.

Dr Hughes added: “Naming and assessing them is just the first step, we need to make sure these species have a secure future in their native habitat and we do this by working with botanists in the relevant countries.”