Killenard to the Himalayas

A NEW poppy discovered by Killenard botanist Paul Egan has been included in the top ten list of international new species of 2011.

A NEW poppy discovered by Killenard botanist Paul Egan has been included in the top ten list of international new species of 2011.

The giant golden Nepalese Autumn Poppy was found growing high in the Himalayas, during a two month botanical expedition in 2008. Following authentification, it was recorded as a new species last year, along with a second poppy discovered during the trek.

The PhD student was surprised and delighted to hear his poppy was included in the prestigious list, compiled by the International Institute of Species Exploration at Arizona University.

“I was very happy alright. I don’t even know who nominated it,” he said.

Paul doesn’t think however that the recognition will make a big change to his career.

“The list is more a celebration of the plants themselves. I don’t think it will make a huge difference for me,” he said.

The Institute choose ten out of over 18,000 new species discovered every year. They picked the poppy because of its beauty and vibrant colour, and because it lives in such an extreme habitat, over 10,000 feet in an isolated area of central Nepal. The difficult conditions Paul and his team underwent to find it also contributed to their decision.

Paul recalls the moment he found it flowering wild, during a difficult mountain expedition undertaken during the monsoon season, with three fellow biology students from Aberdeen.

“My first thought was that it definitely stood out as something different. Most poppies flower in summer, and are done flowering by that stage. It’s not a completely eureka moment, you have a hunch. It’s not the romantic vision, it took a few months afterwards, researching a lot of records in Edinburgh, before I realised it was not something seen before,” he said.

Though so many species remain undiscovered, Paul said it is uncommon for scientists to go on field work.

“The best place to make a discovery in not in the wild, it’s in a herbarium. People gather species and don’t realise they are new,” he said.

Indeed samples of the Autumn flowering poppy ‘Meconopsis autumnalis’ were collected twice before, in 1962 and 1994, but remained unrecognised as new.

Paul’s parents Joyce and Derek Egan, who live near Killenard, are rightfully proud of their son, the eldest of their four children.

“It was a great achievement. The news came out of the blue about the top ten listing. He was always interested in travel. We were worried while he was in Nepal though. We knew he would be in quite remote areas and he was out of reach for quite a while,” said his father, a retired teacher.

Paul is a former pupil of Coláiste Íosagáin, Portarlington, and was bitten by the bug of the outdoors when he took two years off to travel after his leaving cert.

“I visited a lot of wilderness and remote areas, and decided I would like to study ecology,” he said.

His main focus is his ongoing research in Nepal.

“I am hoping to seek charitable status, working with native people in the mountains, protecting biodiversity, while making a living out of resourses in a sustainable way,” he said.