Stunning new species of Japanese orchid discovered hiding in plain sight
By Ines Shin
March 17, 2023
Japanese researchers have identified a new orchid species near Hachijo Island, giving it the name Spiranthes hachijoensis.
Over a decade ago, Kenji Suetsugu, a professor in Kobe University’s Division of Biodiversity, discovered a new orchid species during fieldwork near Hachijo Island, leading to an in-depth study of the flower by him and his colleagues.
The team has been analyzing the plant’s features, genetics and reproductive habits by collecting them from locations in Japan, Taiwan and Laos since 2022.
Prior to the discovery, only three Spiranthes orchid species were known to exist in Japan, with S. australis believed to be the only one to inhabit the Japanese mainland.
Suetsugu first spotted differences between the stems of the new orchid compared to S. australis. Unlike S. australis’ hairy stems, the unidentified orchid had smooth ones.
Another key difference that led the team to investigate further was that S. hachijoensis bloomed nearly one month earlier than S. australis typically did.
According to the study, the orchid’s delicate petals range in color “from purple-pink to white” and measure 0.1 to 0.2 inches long.
Suetsugu emphasized that Spiranthes species often have similar physical features, so “it is important to have a comprehensive understanding of the distribution and ecology of related species to distinguish the unique features of a new species.”
Identification of new plant species in Japan is rare due to the country’s comprehensive documentation of nature.
However, S. hachijoensis was discovered to exist in ordinary settings, such as lawns, parks, gardens and balconies, indicating that other species may also be hiding in plain sight.
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.