Scientists discover endangered orchid plant

A research team from the University of Gdańsk, Poland, have discovered a new orchid plant species in the cloud rainforest of Northern Ecuador.

How was this new orchid plant discovered?

The orchid plant has been scientifically named Maxillaria-anacatalina-portillae, and the plant is considered unique with its attractive, intense yellow flowers. It was discovered by Polish orchidologists in collaboration with an Ecuadorian company operating in orchid research, cultivation, and supply. This discovery was also aided by a local commercial nursery, which is currently in the process of cultivating these orchids.

Due to the location in which it was discovered—the restricted area in the province of Carchi—the orchid is considered a critically endangered species. This is because its rare populations are suffering from the negative impacts of climate change and human activity.

This study has been published in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

How would scientists classify this new species?

Over the past few years, researchers have been working intensely on the classification and species delimitations within the Neotropical genus Maxillaria, which is one of the biggest within the orchid family.

To do this, scientists have investigated the materials deposited in most of the world’s herbarium collections, across Europe and the Americas, and conducted several field trips in South America in the search of the astonishing plants.

How was this information collected?

The very first specimens of what is now known as the new orchid plant, Maxillaria-anacatalina-portillae, were collected by Alex Portilla, photographer, and sales manager at Ecuagenera (an Ecuadorian company dedicated to orchid research, cultivation, and supply), on 11 November 2003 in Maldonado, Carchi Province (northern Ecuador).

Portilla photographed the orchid in its natural habitat and then brought it to the greenhouses of his company for cultivation. Later, its offspring was offered at the commercial market under the name of a different species, but of the same genus: Maxillaria sanderiana ‘xanthina.’

In the meantime, Professor Dariusz L. Szlachetko and Dr Monika M. Lipińska encountered the same orchid plants with uniquely coloured flowers on several different occasions.

Researcher suspected that they may be facing an undescribed taxon, they joined efforts with Dr Natalia Olędrzyńska and Aidar A. Sumbembayev, to conduct additional morphological and phylogenetic analyses.

The scientists utilised samples from both commercial and hobby growers, as well as crucial plants purchased from Ecuagenera that were later cultivated in the greenhouses of the University of Gdańsk.

The study concluded that the orchid was indeed a previously unknown species, and the scientists honoured the original discoverer of the astonishing plant by naming it after his daughter: Ana Catalina Portilla Schröder.

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