Newly discovered plant’s ancestor was influential in ancient cosmetics industry

By Andrew MCDOUGALL contact

- Last updated on GMT

Photo Credit: Santiago Martín Bravo et. al.
Photo Credit: Santiago Martín Bravo et. al.
A new plant discovered by Spanish researchers is the maternal ancestor of a species of hybrid origin, Reseda odorata, which was used in Roman times for its scent, and played an influential role in the ancient cosmetics industry.

Researchers at the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville discovered the new species of flowering plant, Reseda minoica​, in the eastern Mediterranean region, more specifically in Crete (Gavdos Island, Greek's southernmost island), Cyprus and Southern Turkey.

"This species belongs to the genus Reseda of the Resedaceae family, related to the Cruciferae - which includes plants such as cabbage, mustard and radish - and grows on limestone substrates in scrubland near the coast,"​ explains Santiago Martín Bravo, co-author of the study and Botanical researcher at the Pablo de Olavide University in Seville (UPO), to Servicio de Información y Noticias Científicas (SINC).

Importance

The plant is included in section Phyteuma of Reseda genus, a taxonomically complex group mostly containing narrow endemics from the western or eastern Mediterranean region, areas considered to be of critical importance in the diversification of Mediterranean flora.

Its ancestor Reseda odorata​, was used since Roman times due to the fragrance of its flowers, and its essence was used in the ancient cosmetics industry, according to the study published in the journal Annales Botanici Fennici​.

Reseda minoica​ has been confused with related species such as R. odorata, R. orientalis ​and R. balansae​; but can be distinguished from these other species by its lower number of stamens, seed size and petal colour.

Useful

According to Pedro Jiménez Mejías, the other co-author of the study and also a researcher at UPO, "the importance of this discovery is that Reseda minoica is the maternal ancestor of a cultivated species of hybrid origin, Reseda odorata, used since Roman times due to the fragrance of its flowers, and whose essence was used in the ancient cosmetics industry.”

“The location of one of the parts of its origin (the mother species), provides information about the evolutionary mechanisms which produce species which are later useful to mankind."

Moreover, the scientists believe that the plant is "at present rare"​, and could require protection so that it does not become extinct.

"If this were to happen, we would lose part of the Mediterranean's plant genetic resources, with a potential consequent loss for mankind in terms of use and opportunity," ​Jiménez notes.

The researchers suggest that since the species is a recent discovery, it is possible that botanists from areas where the plant grows will begin to search and discover it in other places.

Related topics: Formulation & Science

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