The Darth Vader Begonia

Cue the Imperial March because a new begonia species discovered in 2014 has been named in honor of Darth Vader.

The discovery of this species (as well as two other begonias new to science) comes to us from Sarawak on the island of Borneo. This region is a hot spot for plant diversity and this is especially true for begonias. A combination of diverse terrain and varied microclimates have led to an explosion of speciation events resulting in endemic species found nowhere else in the world.

With its leaves so deeply green that they almost appear black and deep red flowers it's not a stretch to imagine why this begonia has been named Begonia darthvaderiana. Until 2014, no one had ever laid eyes on this species, not even the locals. It was found growing in the deep shade of a forested cliff mixed in among other shade-loving vegetation. It is likely that the dark coloration of its leaves enables it to take advantage of what little sunlight makes it down to the forest floor.

Not long after its discovery was reported, something alarming happened. The so-called Darth Vader begonia began appearing for sale online. With a price tag of $80+, this is one expensive little plant. Apparently a plant poacher from Taiwan managed to smuggle some plants out of the country. This is especially upsetting because of its extreme rarity. Despite its namesake, the force is not strong enough to protect this species from greedy collectors.

This was not the only new begonia species to be named after a Star Wars character. A larger species with green and silver leaves was given the scientific name of Begonia amidalae after Queen Amidala. It too is endemic to the region. The future of these plants as well as many others hangs in the balance. A growing human population is putting pressure on the rainforests of Borneo. As more and more forest is lost to development, countless endemic species are disappearing with it.

Photo Credit: Che-Wei Lin, Shih-Wen Chung, & Ching-I Peng

Further Reading:
http://www.researchgate.net/publication/270396290_Three_new_species_of_Begonia_(sect._Petermannia_Begoniaceae_)_from_Sarawak_Borneo

http://www.sabahparks.org.my/sabah-parks-latest-news/184-urgent-need-to-protect-our-flora-heritage