A major untapped pool of undiscovered flowering plant species may be natural history collections, according to a paper recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Based on a survey of 3,200 plant species, the study’s authors found that only 16% of species were described within five years of collection; nearly one quarter of species were described more than 50 years after they were collected.  The authors estimate that more than 35,000 plant species are likely to be ‘discovered’ in herbaria collections within the new few decades.

Some members of the study attribute the potential for discovery of new species within collections to a lack of trained taxonomists and resources.  Dr. Mark Carine of London’s Natural History Museum told BBC News: “Lack of manpower and lack of expertise is obviously a major issue here.  There’s no doubt we just don’t have enough people to complete the process as rapidly as we might like.”

To read the study, visit http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/12/01/1011841108.  To read the BBC’s coverage, visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11913076.