Poplar tree discovered in western Mexico classified as new species


A view on April 6, 2019, of one of around 100 examples of a new species of poplar tree that was discovered in a forest in the western Mexican state of Jalisco. EPA-EFE/Francisco Guasco

GUADALAJARA, MEX.- A type of poplar tree that is found in a single forest in the western Mexican state of Jalisco and whose white trunk distinguishes it from the roughly 30 other poplar varieties in existence worldwide has been classified as a new species.

The tree grows as high as 30 meters (98 feet) and stands out amid the large numbers of pine and oak trees that abound in La Primavera Forest, a protected area adjacent to Guadalajara’s metropolitan area.

The nearly 100 examples of this species, given the name «Populus primavera lepensis,» were found near the banks of a stream; because of the unique humidity conditions it requires, the tree only grows in a 50-kilometer (30-mile) stretch of this forest known as La Lobera.

«What I’ve seen is that these rock formations create a microclimate where humidity is very important,» University of Guadalajara biologist Jesus Padilla Lepe told EFE.

Indeed, insufficient humidity exists for the species to grow just hundreds of meters from where the stream begins and ends.

Padilla is thoroughly familiar with that part of La Primavera Forest, having discovered this species six years ago when he was a student. In fact, his surname was incorporated into the scientific name given to this new species a few weeks ago.

The geology of this wooded area, which dates back less than 100,000 years, also has favored the evolution of this species, which grows very quickly and may be a «descendant» of the «Populus Lusae.»

That other poplar species is found near the San Nicolas stream outside Ameca, a city located just a few kilometers from La Primavera Forest, said Antonio Vazquez, a researcher with University of Guadalajara’s Botanical Institute.
Most of the 31 poplar species worldwide are found in North America, including 11 in Mexico, five in Canada and eight in the United States.

The poplar, a tree that is an important source of wood and cellulose, extends its roots downward during its first three years in search of water sources before starting to grow upward.

Once it reaches a height of 20 meters (65 feet), its trunk begins to swell.

Experts now will look to manage the controlled reproduction of this newly classified species to ensure its conservation.

«It can be used for wood and paper pulp production,» Vazquez said, stressing the need to work with managers of the reserve to arrange the continued study of this species and «the restoration of the riparian areas (interface between land and a river or stream) where there is evidence that this species existed.»

Not only can the tree be harvested for the timber-processing industry, its bark can be used to treat kidney-related problems such as urinary-tract infections and cystitis (inflammation of the bladder), the experts said.

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