By Marie Dhumieres

BEIRUT: A plant only observed once in Lebanon over a century ago and considered an extinct species was recently rediscovered in the nature reserve of Jabal Moussa by a team of French botanists.

“This is an important discovery because we thought that this species, which only existed in Lebanon, had disappeared,” said Professor Georges Tohmé, one of the two botanists who rediscovered the specimen in June in the course of a comprehensive flora assessment study of Jabal Moussa biosphere reserve.

“A lot of plants disappear but they’re not endemic like this one,” he said, adding that some 100 endemic species had been found in the country and that at least a dozen of them had disappeared, for now.

The Salvia Peyronii Boiss was first discovered by French botanist Peyron in the late 19th century in the Kartic rocks near the Kesrouan village of Faytaroun.

Until the recent rediscovery, only one specimen of the plant existed, which had been deposited by Peyron in Switzerland’s Herborium of Geneva after he returned from Lebanon.

“We searched for it without finding it for some 10 years,” Tohmé said.

The botanists and the Association for the Protection of Jabal Moussa, managing the reserve, have agreed to keep the exact location of the plant secret so that “what happened last time doesn’t happen again,” said Tohmé, explaining that last time, after Peyron’s discovery in 1883, the plant was vandalized and disappeared just after a few months.

“We’re always afraid people [will] go there and start looking for it,” he said, describing the 80-centimeter-tall golden plant bordered with reddish brown dots as “very beautiful and special.”

A specimen has been deposited at the National Council for Scientific Research to be studied, and Tohmé says it may be possible to replicate it.

In the 1960s, a research team led by Father Paul Mouterde, who conducted the first comprehensive survey of the flora of Syria and Lebanon, searched again for the species in the mountains of Faytaroun but found no trace of it. As a result, the species was declared an extinct species.

Tohmé explained that no specific measures to protect the species had been taken yet, as the area of its location is difficult to access and because the plant doesn’t grow in August.

He said that from next year, the usual measures to protect rare species would be applied.

He believed the plant reappeared this summer because of an exceptional climate, with plentiful rainfall in May and June, which he described as a rare phenomenon. He said other species most probably appeared elsewhere in the country.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 13, 2011, on page 3.

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