When people think of orchids, they think of the most exquisite and exotic flowers, which can be traded for thousands of pounds.
The Gastrodia agnicellus — small and brown, with flowers that barely open — may come as a bit of a disappointment by comparison.
But, unshowy as this ‘ugly’ orchid may be, it smells just like a rose, becoming more fragrant as the temperature rises, and is a fascinating new species for scientists who discovered it hidden in the deep shade of humid evergreen forests in Madagascar.
It is one of 10 new species for 2020 named as highlights by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, which has said it could be considered the ‘ugliest orchid in the world.’
Also among the top 10 are a toadstool found on the edge of Heathrow Airport and a strange, heat-tolerant scaly shrub.
One of 10 new species for 2020 named as highlights by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Gastrodia agnicellus, pictured, could be considered the ‘ugliest orchid in the world
Gastrodia agnicellus — which has no leaves and depends on fungi, rather than photosynthesis, for nutrition — is one of around 40 new orchid species.
Dr Martin Cheek, a botanist at Kew and senior scientist Senior within the Identification & Naming department, said: ‘These new species were unexpected.
‘So many are weird and wonderful, like the ugly orchid.
‘They might not all be suitable for your windowsill, but they all have their part to play in nature as part of their ecosystems.’
‘Some may have potential for helping humanity in the future, as new crops or medicines for future, as-yet-unknown diseases.’
‘It is important to discover these species as soon as possible, because most newly discovered species have really small ranges in surviving natural habitat.’
This, he explained, means they are ‘easily accidentally wiped out by, say, land clearance for agriculture, which is the biggest threat right now.’
The toadstool found on the boundary of Heathrow Airport, named Cortinarius heatherae, may have sprung up, in part, thanks to alkaline soil created by tons of concrete left behind following construction at the airport.
Named after the wife of the scientist who found it, the toadstool is important in supporting the growth of oak and willow trees, among other plants, by transferring elements such as phosphates and organic nitrogen to their roots.
Also among the 156 plant and fungi species officially named this year is a pretty pink flower from high up in the Andes within Peru called Ipomoea noemana, which has edible, sweet-tasting tubers.
It represents another food source from the Andes in South America, which are also the source of potatoes, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
The toadstool found on the boundary of Heathrow Airport, named Cortinarius heatherae (pictured), may have sprung up, in part, thanks to alkaline soil created by tons of concrete left behind following construction at the airport
Also among the 156 plant and fungi species officially named this year is a pretty pink flower from high up in the Andes within Peru called Ipomoea noemana, pictured, which has edible, sweet-tasting tubers. It represents another food source from the Andes in South America, which are also the source of potatoes, sweet potatoes and tomatoes
With two in five plants threatened with extinction, scientists face a race against time to find, identify and protect plants before they disappear for good.
Also found this year were 19 new orchids, all from the tropical island of New Guinea, most of which are from the Bulbophyllum genus, and some of which have tufts of hair which make them appear as if they have faces.
The species’ Latin names have meanings including ‘moustached Bulbophyllum’ and ‘the Bulbophyllum with sideburns’.
KEW’S TOP 10 NEW ADDITIONS
Scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and their collaborators around the world have selected their top 10 highlights from the list of new plant and fungal species named in 2020. They are:
Pictured, Tiganophyton karasense
1. Cortinareus heatherae
A toadstool discovered near Heathrow Airport, among six new toadstools in the UK.
2. Tiganophyton karasense
A shrub found in the desert of southern Namibia, amid temperatures of around 36C (97F).
It’s name is derived from the Latin for ‘frying pan’.
3. 19 new orchids from New Guinea
Some have tufts of what look like facial hair.
Pictured, Aloe rakotonasoloi
4. Two new species of Aloe, the genus behind Aloe vera
Any medicinal benefits of these plants from Madagascar are not yet known.
5. Gastrodia agnicellus
A small brown orchid from a forest in Madagascar which may be ‘the ugliest orchid in the world’.
6. Ipomoea noemana
A pretty pink plant with sweet-tasting edible tubers.
Pictured, Acanthostachys calcicola
7. Acanthostachys calcicola
A Brazilian bromeliad from the same family as the pineapple, which is pollinated by hummingbirds.
8. Diplycosia puradyatmikai
A shrub related to the blueberry which grows to 1.5m in height (4ft 11ins) in Indonesian New Guinea.
9. Marsdenia chirindensis
A herb from Zimbabwe from a plant family used to treat problems including fungal skin infections and burns.
10. Hibiscus hareyae
A spectacular, red-flowered plant from Southern Tanzania which can withstand dry conditions.