Article image

New orchid found hiding in plain sight in Japan

Since Japan’s flora has already been extensively studied and documented, the discovery of a new plant species is a rare event. However, a team of scientists from Kobe University has recently found a stunning new species of orchid (Spiranthes hachijoensis), with rosy pink petals bearing a striking resemblance to glasswork. 

Although the orchid was initially spotted near Hachijo Island in the Tokyo Prefecture, further research has shown that its range is much wider than previously expected, extended to familiar environments such as parks or lawns, and even private gardens and balconies. These findings suggest that many new species could potentially be found “hiding” in common places, thus reducing the need of explorers to venture into remote area, such as tropical rainforests, to discover them.

The genus Spiranthes – which is the most widespread type of orchid in Japan and has been admired for centuries, even appearing in the Manyoshu, the country’s oldest extant poetry anthology – encompasses a fascinating variety of orchids, exhibiting an array of distinctive morphological traits. Since their white or pinkish flowers are usually arranged in a spiral around a central stalk, these orchids are often referred to as “ladies’ tresses.”

For a long time, scientists thought that Spiranthes consists of a single species, Spiranthes australis. Yet, extended field surveys across Japan’s mainland revealed several populations of an unknown taxon with hairless flower stems. Although this previously unknown taxon frequently grows alongside S. australis, it seems to bloom about a month earlier, thus leading to reproductive isolation between the two taxa. 

By conducting a comprehensive, ten-year study of specimens collected from various regions in Japan, Taiwan, and Laos, the researchers provided morphological, phylogenetic, and ecological evidence for the recognition of S. hachijoensis as a new species of orchid, exhibiting a high level of molecular divergence from its relatives.

According to the experts, the discovery of this new species concealed in common places, such as parks, lawns, or even private gardens and balconies, highlights the necessity of persistent exploration, even in apparently unremarkable settings.

An in-depth description of the morphology, phenology, phylogeny, and ecology of this new orchid species was recently published in the Journal of Plant Research.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day