"The ugliest orchid on the earth" among the many new species named in 2020
© Reuters. This flyer photo, taken in Madagascar, shows an orchid (Gastrodia agnicellus)
(Corrected this December 17th story to change the language in paragraph 9.)
LONDON (Reuters) – Orchids aren't often referred to as ugly, but that's 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, has been named the "ugliest orchid in the world".
"The 11mm flowers on this orchid are small, brown and pretty ugly," said Kew on his list of the 10 best discoveries of the year. The orchid relies on mushrooms and has no leaves or other photosynthetic tissue.
Although the plants are classified as an endangered species, they have some protection because they are in a national park.
Among the other discoveries officially named this year were six new species of webcap toadstool mushrooms in the UK and a strange shrub encountered in southern Namibia in 2010.
The botanist Wessel Swanepoel could not attribute the shrub to any known genus and no one else, so Swanepoel Kew's molecular expert Felix Forest and his team called for analysis.
The result was that it was not just a new species, but a new genus and family called Tiganophyton karasense.
While around 2,000 plants are labeled new to science each year, new families are only published about once a year.
The shrub has bizarre scaly leaves and grows in extremely hot natural salt pans, hence the name Tiganophyton, derived from the Greek "tigani" or "frying pan" and "phyton" or "plant".
Martin Cheek, Senior Research Director at Kew, welcomed the latest natural discoveries.
"Some could bring vital income to communities while others have the potential to evolve 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, finding, identifying, naming and conserving plants is a race against time before they disappear. "
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