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New and endangered orchid discovered in Ecuador

Ecuador is a stunning paradise of biodiversity. From the Galapagos to the high Andes mountains and the eastern Amazon, the unique landscapes are home to a remarkable variety of plants and animals. Taking this into account, it is not very surprising that a new orchid species would be discovered in the cloud forest of Ecuador. 

The new orchid, which has been named Maxillaria anacatalina-portillae, was formally described by Polish orchidologists working with an Ecuadorian company specializing in orchid research and supply. 

For several years, Polish scientists from the University of Gdańsk have been aiming their research at the tropical genus Maxillaria with the goal of better understanding its abundance of species. The research has taken the scientists to herbariums across Europe and the Americas as well as on field research in South America. 

The first specimen of Maxillaria anacatalina-portillae was collected not by a Polish scientist but by Alex Portilla, a photographer and sales manager at Ecuagenera, an Ecuadorian company that works with orchids. 

The orchid was collected from a restricted area in the northern province of Carchi. Portilla photographed the orchid in its natural environment before taking it back to a greenhouse to be cultivated and sold. The orchid was marketed as a different species in the same genus Maxillaria sanderiana “xanthina.”

At the same time, Professor Dariusz L. Szlachetko and Dr. Monika M. Lipińska happened upon the same plants several times. Intrigued by the uniquely colored flowers and following a hunch that they may represent a new species, they teamed up with Dr. Natalia Olędrzyńska and Aidar A. Sumbembayev. 

Together the scientists analyzed the morphology and phylogenetics of the plants. Samples were used from plants grown by hobbyists as well as commercial greenhouses, including critical plants purchased from Ecuagenera. 

The new species was named in honor of Alex Portilla’s daughter, Ana Catalina Portilla Schröder.

 The research is published in the journal PhytoKeys.    

Image Credit: Alex Portilla

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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