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Oops, botanists missed that tree: newly found acacia common in Ethiopia's Ogaden region.

Botanists couldn't see the forest or the trees. An acacia in eastern Africa that grows up to 6 meters tall and dominates the landscape across an area almost three rimes the size of Rhode Island is new to science.

"It's astounding," says David Mabberley of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England. He summarizes the findings in the April 24 Science, though the tree was officially named Acacia fumosa in the Nordic Journal of Botany in September 2008.

Finding a new species in itself isn't such a surprise. Scientists describe and give Latin names to some 10,000 new organisms a year. About 2,350 of these are flowering plants, with a new one from Africa appearing on average every weekday. What is surprising is that no specimens or botanical mentions of the new acacia existed even though it's so widespread, says Mats Thulin of Uppsala University in Sweden, who named the plant.

Thulin says few botanists have explored the acacia's home in Ethiopia's Somali National Regional State, or Ogaden. The sparse population of the region is mostly ethnic Somali, he says. The Ogaden National Liberation Front is fighting for independence and has made traveling to the region perilous. Thulin, who spent 18 years as editor of Flora of Somalia, made a trip to the area for the first time in 2006.

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Almost immediately, Thulin says, he recognized the acacia as an unknown species. It has unusual smooth, gray bark and bursts into pink, sweet-smelling blooms during the dry season.

With a bit of travel and some help from Google Earth, Thulin realized how widespread the acacia is in its arid habitat. The tree provides vegetation in a landscape too dry for perennial grasses.

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Author:Milius, Susan
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:6ETHI
Date:May 23, 2009
Words:286
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