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Newly discovered orchid species are considered to be the ugliest in the world

By Ibrahim Sawal

Gastrodia agnicellus has been called the ugliest orchid in the world

Rick Burian

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 in the deep shade under the leaves on the forest floor in Madagascar earlier this year. 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” because it has a woolly tuberous root. “With a little imagination, you can almost see the tongue of a lamb in the flower,” he says.

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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 are only dependent on their mushroom symbion for food at the beginning of their life, Gastrodia agnicellus has no cells for photosynthesis and is therefore dependent on its fungus throughout its 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 the extent of its range is believed to be very small and decreasing, likely due to increasing agriculture and the fires in the area. Gastrodia agnicellus has been classified as an endangered species.

Journal reference: Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, DOI: 10.1111 / curt.12354

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