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Rare butterfly orchid, lost for 175 years, rediscovered in the Azores

Washington, Dec. 11 : Researchers have discovered rare Hochstetter's butterfly orchid on volcanic ridge on island in Azores, 175 years after they were first found.


A research team, led by independent botanist Prof. Richard Bateman in collaboration with local botanist Dr. Monica Moura (University of the Azores) and plant morphologist Dr. Paula Rudall (of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew), originally viewed these butterfly-orchids as a simple, tractable system ideal for studying the origin of species and so they initiated a focused exploration of all nine Azorean islands.

A combination of field and laboratory research soon showed that butterfly-orchids first colonized the Azores from the Mediterranean rather than from North America, rapidly undergoing miniaturization of their ancestrally large flowers.

It proved easy to distinguish the widespread Short-spurred Butterfly-orchid (Platanthera pollostantha) from the rarer Narrow-lipped Butterfly-orchid (P. micrantha) using morphology, DNA sequences, and the identities of mycorrhizal fungi associated with the roots of the orchids.

Data gathered subsequently in the laboratory using several analytical techniques all pointed to the discovery of a new species, and suggested that the species - named Platanthera azorica.

Bateman then realized that this "new" orchid had in fact been illustrated (but never correctly identified as a new species) in the first ever Flora of the islands, published in 1844, but thereafter had consistently been confused with other more frequent Azorean species.

The illustrated specimen, deposited in the herbarium at Tubingen by German botanist Karl Hochstetter, was collected during his tour of six of the nine Azorean islands in 1838. However, as Hochstetter did not visit Sao Jorge (where P. azorica was most recently 're-discovered') it is entirely possible that the population he originally described may remain to be discovered on another Azorean island.

The study is published in the journal PeerJ.

--ANI (Posted on 11-12-2013)

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