New Orchid Species Identified in Madagascar


Orchids constitute one of the largest plant families on earth, with more than 27,000 diverse species found in habitats all over the world. They include delicate lady’s slippers growing wild in the woods of New England, the tropical plants that produce vanilla, and the gorgeous but common moth orchids sold at Trader Joe’s for a few dollars.

A team of researchers has recently added to our knowledge of orchids by identifying three new species in Madagascar and clarifying the classification and nomenclature for several others. The findings were reported in  Kew Bulletin. The team included Simon Verlynde, a biology Ph.D. student concentrating on plant sciences in a program jointly run by The Graduate Center, CUNY, and The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

Verlynde’s contributions to the paper stem from his work identifying orchids from Madagascar for the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Living Orchid Collection. That program promotes orchid knowledge and conservation in continental Africa and Madagascar.

Madagascar, an island nation off the coast of Africa, is home to 1,000 known species of orchids. Scientists believe many additional species have yet to be discovered. But the island has lost 44% of forest cover in the past 60 years. “Because of logging, slash-and-burn agriculture, and the local and international horticultural trade, the orchids of Madagascar are particularly threatened,” Verlynde said in a recent presentation about his work.

The new species identified in this work are Angraecum archangelicum, Angraecum polyphemus, and Angraecum rotundifolium. The researchers also made the case for keeping the species of Pectinariella at the “subgeneric level” as a section of the larger Angraecum genus, comprising a number of related species, and they discussed the identity of Angraecum dasycarpum by selecting a type specimen representative of the species. In addition, they compared two other separately named species and concluded that they are actually the same: Angraecum ochraceum and Angraecum setipes.

This type of work involves extremely detailed descriptions, along with illustrations and photos of every aspect of the plant’s stem, branches, leaves, roots, and petals, including size, shape, color, arrangement, and other characteristics, along with notes about its reproductive process and habitat.