‘Ugliest orchid’ and other plant discoveries of 2020

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The “ugliest orchid in the world” is among the 156 new plants and fungi that were added to species records this year, according to scientists at Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens in the UK.

Other new additions include a mushroom, first seen at Heathrow airport, a new blueberry relative in New Guinea and a type of morning glory grown out of purple-hued tubers, which has long been consumed by locals in the Peruvian Andes.

“In a difficult year, it’s so thrilling to see botanical and mycological science continue, with a bumper list of incredible newly named species,” said Martin Cheek, of RBG Kew, in a statement. “There are some amazing new finds, each with their own unique qualities and potential for humanity.”

“However, the bleak reality facing us cannot be underplayed: With two in five plants threatened with extinction, it is a race against time to find, identify, name and conserve plants before they disappear,” he said.

The bizarre orchid variety found in Madagascar features flowers just over a centimeter in size, and are brown and “rather ugly,” as Kew Gardens describes it. It has no leaves or greenery, living below the forest floor most of the time, emerging only to flower and pollinate — likely via flies. When they do, they let off “a noticeable musk rose-like scent,” according to botanists.

Another notable new plant is a scaly dwarf shrub with the ability to grow in the salt flats of Namibia. Its species name, Tiganophyton karasense, comes from the Greek for tigani, meaning “frying pan.” It also happens to be related to the cabbage order of nomenclature, but stands as the single member of a new genus and family.

To the delight of gardeners everywhere, the new Tanzanian hibiscus is said to withstand much drier climate conditions compared with sister plants.

“We hope this list inspires people to realize the beauty and vital importance of plants and fungi and support Kew’s work to find, document and understand these species so they can be protected,” said Cheek.

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