Flower named after Yukoner who discovered it

Biologist Bruce Bennett has always liked Draba flowers. He especially likes the Draba bruce-bennettii, which has been named after him.

'The moment I put it under the scope, I went, 'I don't know what this is.''

Yukon government biologist Bruce Bennett found this little yellow flower in 2012. A research paper has just been published, recognizing 'Draba bruce-bennettii' as a unique species. (Submitted by Bruce Bennett)

Ever wonder how to get a flower named after you?

"Try and get to the tops of mountains" is the advice given by Yukon biologist Bruce Bennett.

After doing just that, he discovered a new species of a little yellow flower that now bears his name: Draba bruce-bennettii.

The unique flower was officially recognized and named in a paper recently published by the Harvard University Herbaria, which called it "a remarkable new species from Yukon Territory, Canada."

According to the paper's author, American botanist Ihsan A. Al-Shehbaz, Draba bruce-bennettii has "linear to linear-oblanceolate basal leaves... oblong fruit pubescent with simple and forked trichomes, fruiting pedicels pilose with simple trichomes, and yellow, obovate petals."

In other words, Bennett says, it's "a pretty yellow alpine Draba."

'I don't know what this is'

When Bennett first saw and collected his specimens in 2012, he didn't realize he'd found something unusual. Flowers of the genus Draba are relatively common in the alpine regions of the North. There are more than 350 known species.

'It is a great honour,' Bennett said, about the naming. 'I thought he was just pulling my leg.' (Submitted by Bruce Bennett)

Bennett had been tagging along with another researcher, who was using a helicopter to reach remote mountains in Southern Yukon and collect alpine plant specimens.  

"I found this yellow Draba all over the place, and I like Drabas, and it was a particularly nice one. So I collected a few of those," Bennett recalled.

He brought them home for his flower collection — his herbarium is renowned in botanical circles — and discovered he couldn't accurately identify his find.

"The moment I put it under the scope, I went, 'I don't know what this is,'" he said.

Bennett sent samples off to Al-Shehbaz, a curator at the Missouri Botanical Garden, who confirmed that Bennett had found something new.

"He sent me this email and he said, I'm going to call it Draba bruce-bennettii,'" Bennett said.

"I kind of laughed ... Until he sent me the manuscript, I thought he was just pulling my leg."

Native to Canada

Bennett calls the name "a great honour" because new species aren't typically named after people, but rather their place of discovery (there's already a Draba yukonensis), or some distinguishing characteristic.

The little yellow plant is now recognized as one of the relatively few species of plant or animal native to Canada (Bennett estimates there are about 170, with less than half of them plants).  

"There's probably a number of other things out there yet to be discovered," Bennett said.

"I mean, we're just finding new bees, and new small mammals and things as well. So, biodiversity is rich here in Yukon, and it's a fun place to wander around."

with files from Sandi Coleman


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