UK wildflower named after naturalist Attenborough

A new wildflower has become the first living species in the UK to be named after naturalist and TV presenter Sir David Attenborough.

The Attenborough’s hawkweed (Hieracium attenboroughianum) was found a decade ago in the Brecon Beacons in south Wales but it took 10 years of study and comparison with related species to make sure it was new.

It is one of a group of closely-related plants belonging to the daisy family, related to and looking similar to dandelions, and experts believe it has evolved in the Brecon Beacons since the last ice age.

The plant is found on rocky ledges on Cribyn, one of three peaks in the central Brecon Beacons which are owned and managed by the National Trust.

It can be easily seen from the main path up to Cribyn in late June and early July when it colours the rocks yellow with its flowers, the Trust said.

Attenborough’s hawkweed brings the number of plants and animals bearing the name of the world-famous broadcaster to 11, although the little plant is the first living species in the UK to be named after him.

The naturalist who named the hawkweed said he chose it because Sir David had inspired him to study ecology as a teenager.

Dr Tim Rich, a plant taxonomist, said: “Finding a new species is a really exciting moment and something you dream of as a naturalist.

“I decided to name this special little plant found in the mountains of the Brecon Beacons after David Attenborough as he inspired me to study ecology when I was 17.

“This is a personal thank you for the years of fascination he has given me going to different places to search for new things.”

Sir David said he was “thrilled” his name had been given to the new hawkweed species.

He added: “Bestowing a name on a new species is surely one of the greatest biological compliments and I am truly grateful.

“It is an added joy that Hieracium attenboroughianum should be so beautiful and live in such a lovely part of the country.”

The new plant was first studied in 2004 when it was discovered by Dr Rich and fellow naturalists Paul Smith, Graham Motley and Joe Daggett, who were looking for the rare summit hawkweed, which was found on the adjacent Pen-y-fan.

More than 300 plants of Attenborough’s hawkweed were found flowering on rocky ledges where they were safe from sheep grazing on the mountains.

Mr Daggett, National Trust countryside manager, said: “It is amazing to think that this is the only place in the world where this plants occurs and that the evolution of a species can occur at such a local level.

“The inaccessible rocks where it’s found should ensure its continued survival into the future.”

Sir David has 11 plant and animals named after him, including an Indonesian flightless weevil beetle and a genus and species of plant from Gabon which was unveiled this week, but Attenborough’s hawkweed is the only living British species to bear his name.