Meet Leo—A Critically Endangered Tree Species Named After Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2020.
Leonardo DiCaprio at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2020. / Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for Turner

In July 2020, the Cameroon government approved plans to make roughly one-third of its Ebo Forest’s some 500,000 acres available for logging operations. Just a few weeks later, the approval was rescinded—much to the relief of conservationists across the globe who’d spent those weeks speaking out against it.

The contingent included Leonardo DiCaprio, who publicized the issue on social media, even tagging Cameroon president Paul Biya in an Instagram post asking him to “Please help #SaveEboForest.” While DiCaprio could hardly be said to have caused the reversal himself, scientists at the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, believe his efforts to raise awareness really did help save the forest.

To express their gratitude, as Variety reports, they’ve named one of the Ebo Forest’s newly classified trees after the actor/activist: Uvariopsis dicaprio. Their research on the species is published in PeerJ. The so-called “Leo tree,” a member of the Annonaceae family, is a tropical evergreen whose bright yellow flowers bloom right from its trunk. “This is a plant which, for a botanist, just jumps out at you,” Kew taxonomist Martin Cheek told New Scientist. “It’s so spectacular.”

The Leo tree showing off its floral ornamentation.
The Leo tree showing off its floral ornamentation. / Lorna MacKinnon, PeerJ // CC BY 4.0

It’s also critically endangered. Only about four dozen mature Leo trees have been identified in the Ebo Forest, and it’s not known to grow anywhere else. U. dicaprio is just one of many endangered species that call Ebo home. Among them are Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzees, Goliath frogs, forest elephants, and grey parrots. Logging activities in or near their habitats could put serious pressure on the populations, threatening the biodiversity of the forest at large.

But the Ebo Forest is not out of the woods, so to speak, quite yet: The government could technically reverse its reversal. The hope is that the forest will be granted national park status before that happens, protecting it from future interference.

[h/t Variety]