Orchids are usually thought of as beautifully colored flowers, but a newly discovered species from Madagascar is far from pretty.
The orchid, Gastrodia agnicellus, was discovered earlier this year in deep shade under leaves on the forest floor in Madagascar. This small, brown colored orchid spends most of its life underground and has no leaves. It only appears to produce fruit and distribute its seeds.
“I’m sure mother thinks it’s very beautiful,” says Johan Hermans of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, who discovered the species. Hermans says the name “Agnicellus ” comes from the Latin word for “little lamb” as it has a woolly tuberous root. “With a bit of imagination, you can almost see a lamb’s tongue in the flower,” he says.
Like most orchids, this species is a perennial, meaning it can live for many years and has a symbiotic relationship with a fungus. While others only depend on their mushroom symbiote at the beginning of their life for food, Gastrodia agnicellus has no cells for photosynthesis and is therefore dependent on its fungus for life.
Hermans expected the orchid to smell terrible, as most plants that have this decaying appearance often smell of rotten flesh to encourage insect pollinators to reproduce. “It actually had a pretty fresh citrus smell,” he says
He also says they still don’t know how this orchid is actually pollinated. “Orchids can adapt particularly well,” he says. So it must have found a unique way to survive.
This new species was discovered in a tiny region in Madagascar and its range is believed to be very small and decreasing, likely due to increasing agriculture and the fires in the area. Such as, Gastrodia agnicellus has been classified as an endangered species.
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