New Guinea has the world’s richest island flora


New Guinea is the world’s largest tropical island and has fascinated naturalists for centuries1,2. Home to some of the best-preserved ecosystems on the planet3 and to intact ecological gradients—from mangroves to tropical alpine grasslands—that are unmatched in the Asia-Pacific region4,5, it is a globally recognized centre of biological and cultural diversity6,7. So far, however, there has been no attempt to critically catalogue the entire vascular plant diversity of New Guinea. Here we present the first, to our knowledge, expert-verified checklist of the vascular plants of mainland New Guinea and surrounding islands. Our publicly available checklist includes 13,634 species (68% endemic), 1,742 genera and 264 families—suggesting that New Guinea is the most floristically diverse island in the world. Expert knowledge is essential for building checklists in the digital era: reliance on online taxonomic resources alone would have inflated species counts by 22%. Species discovery shows no sign of levelling off, and we discuss steps to accelerate botanical research in the ‘Last Unknown’8.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Floristic patterns in New Guinea.
Fig. 2: Representatives of species-rich genera with more than 80 species in New Guinea.
Fig. 3: Breakdown of the New Guinea flora by life form.
Fig. 4: Species described per decade in New Guinea.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available within the Article and in Supplementary Tables 14.

Code availability

The R code used for calculations and analyses is available from the corresponding author on request.


  1. 1.

    Frodin, D. in The Ecology of Papua, Part One (eds Marshall, A. & Beehler, B.) 87–130 (Periplus, 2007).

  2. 2.

    Conn, B. J. in Biodiversity and Terrestrial Ecosystems (eds Peng, C.-I. & Chou, C.-H.) 123–156 (Institute of Botany, Academia Sinica, 1994).

  3. 3.

    Mittermeier, R. A. et al. Biodiversity hotspots and major tropical wilderness areas: approaches to setting conservation priorities. Conserv. Biol. 12, 516–520 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Paijmans, K. New Guinea Vegetation (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in association with the Australian National Univ. Press, 1976).

  5. 5.

    Roos, M. C. et al. Species diversity and endemism of five major Malesian islands: diversity–area relationships. J. Biogeogr. 31, 1893–1908 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Loh, J. & Harmon, D. A global index of biocultural diversity. Ecol. Indic. 5, 231–241 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Cámara-Leret, R. & Dennehy, Z. Information gaps of indigenous and local knowledge for science-policy assessments. Nat. Sustain. 2, 736–741 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Souter, G. New Guinea: The Last Unknown (Angus and Robertson, 1963).

  9. 9.

    Good, R. On the geographical relationships of the angiosperm flora of New Guinea. Bull. Br. Mus. Nat. Hist. 2, 205–226 (1960).

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Supriatna, J. et al. The Irian Jaya Biodiversity Conservation Priority-Setting Workshop (Conservation International, 1999).

  11. 11.

    Madagascar Catalogue. Catalogue of the Plants of Madagascar (Missouri Botanical Garden, St Louis, USA, accessed August 2019);

  12. 12.

    Backer, C. A. & Bakhuizen van den Brink, R. C. Jr. Flora of Java Vol. 1–3 (Wolters Noordhoff, 1968).

  13. 13.

    Pelser, P. B., Barcelona, J. F. & Nickrent, D. L. (eds) Co’s Digital Flora of the Philippines (accessed August 2019);

  14. 14.

    MacArthur, R. H. & Wilson, E. O. The Theory of Island Biogeography (Princeton Univ. Press, 1967).

  15. 15.

    Webb, C. O., Slik, J. F. & Triono, T. Biodiversity inventory and informatics in Southeast Asia. Biodivers. Conserv. 19, 955–972 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Hoover, J. D. et al. Modeling hotspots of plant diversity in New Guinea. Trop. Ecol. 58, 623–640 (2017).

    Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Ulloa Ulloa, C. et al. An integrated assessment of the vascular plant species of the Americas. Science 358, 1614–1617 (2017).

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    van Welzen, P. C., Slik, J. W. F. & Alahuhta, J. Plant distributions and plate tectonics in Malesia. Biologiske Skrifter 55, 199–217 (2005).

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Baldwin, S. L., Fitzgerald, P. G. & Webb, L. E. Tectonics of the New Guinea region. Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 40, 495–520 (2012).

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Steinbauer, M. J. Topography-driven isolation, speciation and a global increase of endemism with elevation. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 25, 1097–1107 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    ter Steege, H. et al. Towards a dynamic list of Amazonian tree species. Sci. Rep. 9, 3501 (2019).

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    van Steenis, C. G. G. J. (ed.) Flora Malesiana series I Vol. I (Noordhoff-Kolff, 1950).

  23. 23.

    Boyle, B. et al. The taxonomic name resolution service: an online tool for automated standardization of plant names. BMC Bioinformatics 14, 16 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Lamanna, C. et al. Functional trait space and the latitudinal diversity gradient. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 13745–13750 (2014).

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    ter Steege, H. et al. The discovery of the Amazonian tree flora with an updated checklist of all known tree taxa. Sci. Rep. 6, 29549 (2016).

    ADS  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Cardoso, D. et al. Amazon plant diversity revealed by a taxonomically verified species list. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 10695–10700 (2017).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Coode, M. J. E., Hinchcliffe, S. C. & Marsden, C. J. Checklist of the Flowering Plants of N. E. Kepala Burung (Vogelkop), Irian Jaya, Indonesia (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1997).

  28. 28.

    Basset, Y. et al. Quantifying biodiversity: experience with parataxonomists and digital photography in Papua New Guinea and Guyana. Bioscience 50, 899–908 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Goodwin, Z. A., Harris, D. J., Filer, D., Wood, J. R. & Scotland, R. W. Widespread mistaken identity in tropical plant collections. Curr. Biol. 25, R1066–R1067 (2015).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Goss, A. The Floracrats: State-Sponsored Science and the Failure of the Enlightenment in Indonesia (Univ. Wisconsin Press, 2011).

  31. 31.

    Conn, B. J. & Damas, K. Q. Trees of Papua New Guinea Vol. 1–3 (Xlibris, 2019).

  32. 32.

    Newman, M., Chayamarit, K. & Balslev, H. in Tropical Plant Collections: Legacies from the Past? Essential Tools for the Future (eds Friis, I. & Balslev, H.) 177–186 (Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 2017).

  33. 33.

    Cámara-Leret, R. et al. The Manokwari Declaration: challenges ahead in conserving 70% of Tanah Papua’s forests. Forest Soc. 3, 148–151 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    APG IV. An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG IV. Bot. J. Linn. Soc. 181, 1–20 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Pteridophyte Phylogeny Group. A community-derived classification for extant lycophytes and ferns. J. Syst. Evol. 54, 563–603 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Christenhusz, M. J. et al. A new classification and linear sequence of extant gymnosperms. Phytotaxa 19, 55–70 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    R Core Team. R: a language and environment for statistical computing (R Foundation for Statistical Computing, 2019).

  38. 38.

    Hijmans, R. & van Etten, J. raster: Geographic data analysis and modeling. R package v.2.8-19. (2019).

  39. 39.

    Vilela, B. & Villalobos, F. letsR: a new R package for data handling and analysis in macroecology. Methods Ecol. Evol. 6, 1229–1234 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    QGIS Development Team. QGIS: a Free and Open Source Geographic Information System. (2020).

Download references


We thank the collectors, herbarium and database curators and colleagues at our institutions for support and discussions; J. Bascompte for feedback on a previous draft; and I. Cámara Leret for the design of Fig. 3. R.C.-L. and P.C.v.W. received funding from the Royal Society International Exchanges (grant IE 170241, ‘Building the New Guinea Research Team’); A.S.B. acknowledges financial support from the Carlsberg Foundation and the Danish Research Council; L.-F.F. acknowledges the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant 31570307); G.H. acknowledges the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) for a post-doctoral fellowship (process 153430/2018-4); S.K. was supported by the US National Science Foundation (grant DEB-1457366); Y.W.L is funded by the National Parks Board, Singapore under a postgraduate research scholarship; M.L. received funding from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (LE 1826/3-1) and Synthesys (GB-TAF-6305); P.H.A.M. acknowledges the São Paulo Research Foundation – FAPESP (grant 2015/13112-7 and 2018/09379-6); D.S.P. received funding from the US National Science Foundation (grant DEB-1754667); the contributions of G.D.W. to the project were supported by the US National Science Foundation (grants DEB-0515678, DEB-0816749 and DEB-0841885); and M.H. and H.P.W. received funding from the Edinburgh Botanic Garden (Sibbald) Trust and the M. L. MacIntyre Begonia Trust. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is supported by the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environmental Science and Analytical Services Division.

Author information




R.C.-L. conceived the study, analysed the data and wrote a first draft of the paper. All authors verified taxonomic data and contributed to revisions.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Rodrigo Cámara-Leret.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature thanks Timothy Baker, Lars Chatrou, Thomas Givnish, Vojtech Novotny and Hans ter Steege for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 Delimitation of the study area of New Guinea.

The study area (black islands) includes islands within a depth of −120 m of mainland New Guinea according to the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans ( Purple lines depict seafloor depth starting at −120 m.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Collection effort and discovery of the New Guinea flora through time.

The number of plant collections that have been digitized (green bars), the cumulative total number of collections (green dotted line) and the cumulative number of plant species (basionyms) described over time (black dotted line).

Extended Data Table 1 The 31 plant families in New Guinea that have more than 100 species, arranged in descending order of native species
Extended Data Table 2 The 20 most-diverse plant genera in New Guinea, arranged in descending order of native species
Extended Data Table 3 The 61 endemic genera to New Guinea, their number of species and availability of sequences in GenBank
Extended Data Table 4 Number of New Guinea specimens and unidentified specimens, and percentage of unidentified specimens, for larger vascular plant genera held at BISH, BRI, CANB, L, LAE and NSW

Supplementary information

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Table 1

Checklist of the Vascular Plants of New Guinea.

Supplementary Table 2

Synonyms of Vascular Plants in New Guinea.

Supplementary Table 3

State of knowledge and dates of coverage of vascular plants in New Guinea since 1905.

Supplementary Table 4

State of knowledge of larger (≥ 40 spp.) vascular plant genera in New Guinea.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Cámara-Leret, R., Frodin, D.G., Adema, F. et al. New Guinea has the world’s richest island flora. Nature 584, 579–583 (2020).

Download citation


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter for a daily update on COVID-19 science.
Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing