New species of orchid with ‘glass petals’ discovered in Japan

- Article Top Advertisement -

Sometimes, newly discovered species of flowers lurk where scientists least expect to see them – in parks, gardens and even in pots on porches.

That’s where researchers in Japan recently identified a new species of orchid, with its pink and white flowers so delicate and fragile that they seem to be made of glass. The newly described flower is neighboring populations of a related species of orchid, common in Japan, which it closely resembles.

- Article Inline Advertisement 1-

Its discovery is an important reminder that unknown species live right under our noses, scientists reported last Friday (18) in the Journal of Plant Research.

“The incredible diversity of the orchid family, Orchidaceae, is truly astounding, and new discoveries like this Spiranthes underscore the urgency of studying and protecting these botanical gems,” Justin Kondrat, lead horticulturist for the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection, told CNN by email. Kondrat was not involved in the research.

- Advertisement -

Orchids of this genus — Spiranthes — are called “female braids” because of their resemblance to wavy locks of hair. Spirals have a central stem, around which grows an upward spiral of small bell-shaped flowers that can be white, pink, purple or yellow.

There are about 50 species of Spiranthes found in Eurasia, Australia and the Americas, generally in temperate or tropical regions, and these flowers have been known in Japan for hundreds of years, according to the study.

Populations of the floral newcomer were discovered in Tokyo prefecture near Hachijo Island, inspiring the species name Spiranthes hachijoensis.

Prior to this discovery, three species of Spiranthes orchids were found in Japan: S. australis, S. sinensis, and S. hongkongensis, and it was believed that only S. australis grew on the Japanese mainland.

However, during research in mainland Japan more than a decade ago, the study’s lead author Kenji Suetsugu, a professor in the Division of Biodiversity, Ecology and Speciation at Kobe University, found something unusual: flowers presumably S. australis, but with smooth stems. (S. australis typically has hairy stems.)

The hairless populations also flowered about a month earlier than S. australis usually did—another indication that these orchids might not be S. australis, Suetsugu told CNN by email.

“That prompted us to investigate further,” Suetsugu said.

From 2012 to 2022, he and his colleagues searched for hairless orchids and analyzed the plants’ physical, genetic, and reproductive characteristics. Because Spiranthes species often overlap geographically and can look alike, “it’s important to have a comprehensive understanding of the distribution and ecology of related species to distinguish the unique characteristics of a new species,” he said.

Flower colors for S. hachijoensis ranged “from purple-pink to white,” with petals measuring about 3 to 4 millimeters long, the researchers reported.

S. hachijoensis had smaller flowers with wider bases and straighter central petals than other Spiranthes species; it also lacked a framework for self-pollination.

Morphologically, it was very similar to S. hongkongensis and S. nivea, but minimal physical differences and genetic analysis confirmed that it was unique. In addition to the Tokyo population, the study authors found S. hachijoensis in other parts of the Kanto ward and in Kyushu, Shikoku, and Chubu wards.

“We were thrilled to identify a new species of Spiranthes,” said Suetsugu. “Spiranthes is the most well-known orchid in Japan and has been prized for centuries,” he said, adding that the flower is mentioned in Japan’s oldest poetry anthology, dating back to 759.

The identification of new plant species in Japan is an unusual event, with the country’s flora widely documented and studied. This discovery is likely to spark interest in the flower, which is much rarer than S. australis, he added.

“This discovery of new species hidden in commonplaces underscores the need for persistent exploration, even in seemingly unremarkable settings!” Suetsugu said via email. “It also highlights the continued need for taxonomic and genetic research to accurately assess species diversity.”

The fragile beauty of the newly discovered “female braids” is a hallmark of orchids—but so is vulnerability. There are about 28,000 known orchid species worldwide.

However, habitat loss has put many species in danger, and the flowers’ popularity will not save them if they are not protected.

“Orchids have intimately intertwined connections in so many ecosystems, as well as different aspects of science and culture,” said Kondrat.

“People cannot help but be captivated by its many shapes and colors. It is this emotional response that hopefully encourages and inspires people to take action to protect them.”

Source: CNN Brasil

- Article Bottom Advertisement -


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Hot Topics

Related Articles