National Geographic interviews Holman about newly discovered tree species

Garth Holman, a research associate in the School of Biology and Ecology at the University of Maine, spoke with National Geographic for the article, “First new species of temperate conifer tree discovered in more than a decade.” To determine whether the Ulleungdo hemlock deserved to be its own species, Holman examined samples. He found that DNA in the nuclei of the tree’s cells put it closest to southern Japanese hemlock, but DNA from the tree’s chloroplasts more closely resembles that of a different hemlock species, according to the article. The team announced the new species in late 2017 in Systematic Botany. The Ulleungdo hemlock probably once grew widely in what is now Korea and China, but it was likely beaten back by glaciers during an ice age, Holman speculates. “You could describe it as Korea got run over by a glacier, but Ulleungdo got missed,” Holman said. Because it is so rare, the researchers believe the tree is probably critically endangered. It now grows in arboreta in Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston and D.C., increasing its chances of survival, National Geographic reported. The fact that the Ulleungdo hemlock sprouts new needles early in spring could make it especially popular for landscaping, according to Holman.