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Up for auction: Naming rights for a new plant species in California

Up for auction: Naming rights for a new plant species in California
The right to name this new species of mint found in California is up for auction on EBay. (California Native Plant Society)

The online auction site EBay is known for its unusual offerings. It's where, for example, a suit of armor for a guinea pig can fetch $1,025 and a grilled cheese sandwich purportedly bearing a portrait of the Virgin Mary nets $28,000.

But an auction Tuesday presents what is truly a one-of-a-kind opportunity: the privilege of naming a California plant that is rare and new to science.

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Participants can choose from among four undescribed species of mint in the genus Monardella, each discovered in a separate area of California: just south of the Oregon border, the Sierra Nevada range, the White Mountains and a section of North Bay wine country charred by recent wildfires, according to the California Native Plant Society. Bidding starts at $10,000.

The online auction concludes Feb. 2 during the nonprofit group's annual conservation banquet at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott. Proceeds will support conservation programs, and are tax deductible.

The winner will be able to provide a scientific name and a common name for the selected plant which, in the world of botany, leaves plenty of room for creativity. Weird plant names, for example, include the corpse flower and the naked man orchid.

The one rule is: "No mean names attacking political leaders will be accepted," said Dan Gluesenkamp, executive director of the California Native Plant Society.

"The winning name will endure as long as there are botanists," he said. "Centuries from now, this published name will remain part of the scientific and historical record."

As for the botanist who discovered the plants, Gluesenkamp said, "he wishes to remain anonymous."

It's not the first time online shoppers have been able to buy a name for a new species. Previous auctions offered up naming rights for a moth discovered at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico and for a sea lily found in Bahamian waters.

But "this is the first time naming rights have been auctioned for a new plant in California," said Liv O'Keeffe, a spokeswoman for the California Native Plant Society.

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