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Almost 30 years ago, the specimen of a weird tree collected in the southern part of Kakadu National Park was packed in my luggage. It was on its way to the mecca of botanical knowledge in London, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.
But what was it?
With unusual inflated winged fruits, it flummoxed local botanists who had not seen anything like it before. To crack the trees identity, it needed more than the limited resources of the Darwin Herbarium.
Later, we discovered a fragmentary specimen hidden in a small box at the end of a little-visited collection vault in the Darwin Herbarium. And it had been sitting there quietly since 1974.
Most of the specimens inside this box just irritate botanists as being somewhat intractable to identify. This is what’s known as the “GOK” box, standing for “God Only Knows”.
Together with the resources of Kew Gardens, the species was finally connected with a genus and recognised as a new species.
A year later, it was named Hildegardia australiensis.
Authors: Gregory John Leach, Honorary Fellow at Menzies School of Health Research, Charles Darwin University