Why is the first new plant species of 2022 named after Leonardo DiCaprio?

Pictured: dicaprio and DiCaprio

A newly discovered tree in Cameroon has the honor of being both the first new plant species of 2022 and named after one of the biggest names in Hollywood.

Most of us recognize Leonardo DiCaprio as an Academy Award winner, actor in over 50 movies, or as “Jack” from Titanic. But as iconic as his work in entertainment has been, it’s DiCaprio’s environmental activism that’s made even more of an impact.

It’s no coincidence that the latest planetary disaster movie, Don’t Look Up, feels so personal. For over 20 years, Leonardo DiCaprio’s been a vocal environmental activist working hard to support biodiversity and conservation, as well as combat climate change. Among his many eco-achievements, he’s acted as board member of the World Wildlife Fund while spearheading his own philanthropic foundation since 1998. Over the years, DiCaprio’s donated eye-watering amounts of money toward conservation and environmental issues, and recently pledged a staggering $43 million to rewilding the Galapagos Islands.

And now, he’s got a tree named after him.

Lorna MacKinnon/RBG Kew

The tree in question, Uvariopsis dicaprio, was recently found living in a small part of the environmentally interesting Ebo Forest in Cameroon. These tropical evergreens sport long yellowish flowers that grow straight out of its 13-foot-tall trunk.

It was an especially lucky find, too, considering this crazy-looking tree is already critically endangered. All fiftyish of the U. dicaprio trees identified live in an unprotected area of the forest that was slated for logging as recently as 2020.

But after hearing about the Cameroonian government’s plans to log almost 170,000 acres of the forest, the tree’s namesake immediately got to work setting up protections. Thanks to an enormous financial and social backing, the logging expedition was stopped just in time.

In Kew’s statement on this year’s new species findings, senior researcher Dr. Martin Cheek said,

“We very much appreciated the support Leo gave us in campaigning to protect Ebo last year so it seemed fitting to honour him in this way, naming a species unique only to this forest, after him. Had the logging concession gone ahead, we would have likely lost this species to timber extraction and slash and burn agriculture that usually follows logging concessions.”

While we can’t be sure how many species like U. dicaprio have gone extinct before they’re even found, this headline-making discovery has helped shine a new light on the importance of conservation. Celebrity endorsement can be a powerful thing.

Sarah Czarnecki is a freelance writer who focuses on wildlife and ecotourism while occasionally dipping a toe into fiction. Learn more about who she is and why she writes at her eponymous website.



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