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Finzel at JPII discovers new plant species

MADISON – Brian Finzel, a botanist and teacher at Saint John Paul II Catholic High School, has discovered a new plant species in Northeast Alabama.

The new species, Hexastylis finzelii or “Finzel’s Wild Ginger,” was named in honor of Finzel’s late mother, Ginger Finzel. Brian Finzel found the plant near Lake Guntersville while he was searching for various plant varieties.

“Last Saturday, I was hiking near Guntersville Dam (in April 2019) when I came across a plant I did not recognize,” Finzel said. “I took several photos with my phone and sent them to a few of my botanist friends. Those friends quickly realized this was a plant that had never been identified anywhere in the world.”

Finzel is only one of a select group of botanists who have the distinction of discovering a new plant species. Each year, approximately 2,000 new plants are identified worldwide, many in Brazil, China and Australia.

“The Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas” published Finzel’s findings in the publication’s December issue. Dr. Brian R. Keener of the University of West Alabama introduced the species to the world.

After his initial discovery, Finzel returned to the site with Keener and other plant enthusiasts to collect specimens. Their inspection began the process of analyzing and documenting this plant as a new species.

Several hundred specimens of the new plant are growing in an area about the size of a football field. The plant is related to two other species of ginger found in Alabama, but the flower structure and habitat make this plant clearly distinctive. The only known locations of the plant are on a federal TVA reservation, so Finzel’s Wild Ginger should remain protected and likely will appear as a federally endangered species.

Finzel credits this discovery to God and the guiding hand of his beloved mother. After a long-term illness, Ginger Finzel died in December 2018. She was a devoted Catholic, and the Finzel family has been associated many years with Saint John Paul II Catholic High School.

Ginger Finzel worked at JPII for eight years, and her husband, Dr. Peter Finzel, was a substitute teacher and is a member of JPII’s Benefactors Society. Their children, Brian Finzel and his sister Margarete Smith, are current JPII faculty members.

“My mom endured many roadside stops on family trips with me, patiently waiting while I took pictures of plants from all over the United States and Canada,” Brian Finzel said. “I believe it is divine providence that I happened upon a rare species of ginger.”

For more information, visit jp2falcons.org.

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