“The ugliest orchid in the world” among the new species named in 2020

An orchid is visible in this photo taken in Madagascar on September 20, 2019.


Orchids aren’t often called ugly, but this is how the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, described a new species of the normally vibrant and delicate flower discovered in the forests of Madagascar.

Gastrodia agnicellus, one of 156 species of plants and fungi named by Kew scientists and their partners around the world in 2020, was crowned “the ugliest orchid in the world”.

“The 11mm flowers of this orchid are small, brown and quite ugly,” Kew said on his list of the year’s top 10 discoveries. The orchid is dependent on mushrooms for food and has no leaves or other photosynthetic tissues.

Although valued as a threatened species, the plants have some protection because they are found in a national park.

Among the other discoveries officially named this year were six new species of poisonous mushrooms in the UK and a strange shrub encountered in southern Namibia in 2010.

Botanist Wessel Swanepoel couldn’t place the shrub in any known genus and neither could anyone else, and so Swanepoel called Kew molecular expert Felix Forest and his team for analysis.

The result was that it was not just a new species, but a new genus and a new family, called Tiganophyton karasense.

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While some 2,000 plants are named new to science each year, new families are only published once a year.

The shrub has bizarre, scaly leaves and grows in extremely hot natural salt flats, hence the name Tiganophyton, derived from the Latin “Tigani”, or “pan”, and “Phyton”, or “plant”.

Martin Cheek, Kew’s senior research chief, welcomed the latest natural discoveries.

“Some may provide a viable income to communities, while others may have the potential to be developed into a future food or medicine,” he said.

But he warned: “The bleak reality we face cannot be underestimated. With two out of five plants threatened with extinction, it’s a race against time to find, identify, name and preserve plants before they disappear.”

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)