New But Ancient Orchid Species Discovered in Japan

Japan’s most recognizable orchid, the Spiranthes australis, has been cherished for centuries (it even features in The Man’yōshū, the oldest collection of Japanese waka poetry, dating back to 759AD) and it’s just been discovered to have an almost identical twin: the Spiranthes hachijoensis. The flower was actually hiding in plain sight—in private gardens, balconies, parks and more—and the common belief was “that all the Spiranthes on the Japanese mainland were a single species, when in fact there are two.” The flower’s delicate petals have been described as appearing like spun glass, and it was those petals that led to the discovery. Kobe University’s professor Kenji Suetsugu found that “some apparently common or garden Spiranthes had hairless stems while most were notably furrier.” Suetsugu looked further into it, and through “DNA analysis, morphology, field observations and reproductive biology” found that the common Spiranthes is actually two species. He says, “This discovery of new species concealed in common locales underscores the necessity of persistent exploration, even in seemingly unremarkable settings. It also highlights the ongoing need for taxonomic and genetic research to accurately assess species diversity.” Read more at The Guardian.

Image courtesy of Masayuki Ishibashi/Kobe University