Science Snapshot: Not “Extinctus” After All

Assumed to have gone extinct more than 30 years ago, Gasteranthus extinctus has been rediscovered by scientists working in Ecuador.

Lisa Winter
Lisa Winter

Lisa Winter became social media editor for The Scientist in 2017. In addition to her duties on social media platforms, she also pens obituaries for the website. She graduated from Arizona State University, where she studied genetics, cell, and developmental biology.

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Apr 19, 2022
Gasteranthus extinctus, a plant with bright orange flowers and deep green leaves
Riley Fortier
Gasteranthus extinctus, a plant with bright orange flowers and deep green leaves
Riley Fortier

When researchers first formally described a plant bearing bright orange flowers fringed by deep green leaves in 2000, they were working with a sample collected in 1985 from western Ecuador. The area where the flower was found had been converted into farmland by the ’90s and conservationists assumed that the oddly-shaped bloom had been wiped out. That was why researchers named it Gasteranthus extinctus. In 2019 and 2021, a team from Chicago’s Field Museum and local Ecuadoran scientists identified a wild specimen of G. extinctus at five different forest sites in Ecuador, more than 35 years after its last sighting. They published news of their discovery on April 15 in PhytoKeys

While it is worth celebrating that G. extinctus is now ill-named, the plant is categorized as endangered and is not out of the woods, so to speak.