New Orchid Species Discovered by the Missouri Botanical Garden

In the Missouri Botanical Garden’s more than 160-year history, Garden scientists have discovered and named hundreds of new species of orchids. Most recently, the Garden’s orchid team in Africa and Madagascar, led by Garden Scientist Tariq Stevart, has taken the lead in orchid discovery. In the past, the Garden’s efforts focused on New World tropical orchids. Wherever they’re found, these orchids come in all shapes and sizes and a rainbow of vibrant hues. Some species are rare, found in only one location on the planet. Many are of high conservation concern.

Here are a few orchids described by Garden scientists, past and present, as they have worked to carry out the Garden’s mission to discover, and conserve, the world’s plants:

Photo by Brigitte Ramandimbisoa.

Species: Solenangis sp. Nov.
Where it’s from: Madagascar

Garden Botanist Patrice Antilahimena collected this species as part of an impact assessment of a mine site. This peculiar plant has an elongated yellowish stem, small coriaceous leaves, and the third longest spur of any orchid. It took 10 years for botanists to find a second population of this species, more than 280 miles away. Scientists have not yet determined the pollinator of this flagship species, despite 2,000 hours of video monitoring.

Photo by Laura Azandi.

Species: Cyrtorchis okuensis
Where it’s from: Cameroon, Nigeria, and Equatorial Guinea
When it was described: 2021
Who described it: Vincent Droissart, Laura N. Azandi, and Murielle Simo
Conservation Status: Near Threatened
Cyrtorchis okuensis is endemic to the montane forests of the Cameroon Volcanic Line and is pollinated by hawkmoths. The discovery of this new species highlights the necessity of describing the biodiversity in a world under various human pressures. A civil war in the Northwestern region of Cameroon has prevented all access to its natural habitat since 2017, making ex-situ conservation, like the Garden’s shadehouse network and seed banks, essential.


Photo by Brigitte Ramandimbisoa.

Species: Angraecum polyphemus
Where it’s from: Madagascar
When it was described: 2020
Who described it: Johan Hermans & Simon Verlynde
Conservation status: Endangered
This new tiny orchid has a distinctive green marking on its flowers and a club-shaped spur that inspired the species name, a reference to the giant Polyphemus in Homer’s Odyssey, as it is reminiscent of both the cyclops and his weapon. While this species was described in the genus Angraecum, famous for eye-catching flowers that are often stars of the Garden’s Orchid Show, recent molecular results showed that it could belong to a new genus that still needs to be described.

Photo by L. Valenzuela.

Species: Epidendrum montispichinchense 
Where it’s from: Ecuador and Bolivia
When it was described: 2001
Who described it: Eric Hágsater and Calaway H. Dodson
Conservation status: Unknown

The first specimen of the species was collected in 1863 and the dried orchid waited in the herbarium for 135 years for a name. Since, it has been found in six mountain locations, including Bolivia and Ecuador. Its green flowers are unusual in the genus. With nectar-producing flowers, this species is pollinated by night moths.

Photo by Maria Seidel.

Species: Restrepia vasquezii 
Where it’s from: Bolivia
When it was described: 1996
Who described it:. Carl Luer
Conservation status: Unknown

There are about 50 species in this genus from southern Mexico through Venezuela that are popular in tropical collections as mini-orchids. The Bolivian government featured Restrepia vasquezii in bloom on a postal stamp in 2012.

Photo by Robert Dressler.

Species: Brachionidium minusculum
Where it’s from: Costa Rica
When it was described: 1994
Who described it: Carlyle Luer, Robert Dressler 
Conservation status: Unknown

This mini-orchid produces flowers about a third of an inch in length. Robert Dressler and Costa Rican orchidologist Dora Mora de Retana collected this orchid in Cartago, Costa Rica in 1994 at an altitude of more than 1,300 feet. Garden Orchid Specialist Carlyle Luer worked with Dressler on the description.

Photo by Rodolfo Vásquez.

Species: Schlimmia condorana
Where it’s from: Peru, Ecuador
When it was described: 1989
Who described it: Calaway Dodson
Conservation status: Endangered

This species’ name comes from the Condor mountain range in Ecuador where it was first collected. It has since been identified in Peru by a team of botanists who collected living specimens on Leap Day (February 29), 2008.

Photo credit by M. H. Grayum.

Species: Brachionidium folsomii 
Where it’s from: Panama in Costa Rica
When it was described: 1982
Who described it: Robert Dressler
Conservation status: Unknown

Robert Dressler and fellow Garden botanist James Folsom found this orchid in 1977 Panama at an altitude of 2,800 feet. The species has since been found as high as 5,000 feet. Unlike most orchids, its flower bud doesn’t twist 180 degrees before it opens.

Photo by Rodolfo Vásquez.

Species: Masdevallia roseola
Where it’s from: Ecuador
When it was described: 1980
Who described it: Carlyle Luer 
Conservation status: Unknown

Found in cloud forest at elevations of 5,000 feet, Masdevallia roseola’s name refers to its rose-pink flowers, although some plants make darker petals and sepals. In the past 40 years, it has gained some popularity with home growers as it produces many glossy flowers.

Photo by L. Valenzuela

Species: Catasetum stevensonii
Where it’s from: Ecuador
When it was described: 1978
Who described it: Calaway Dodson
Conservation status: Unknown

Catasetum flowers attract male orchid bees that collect the spicy fragrances on the ornamented lip petals to complete their life-cycles. If a male bee triggers one of the antennae of the male plant, like the one in the above photo, the orchid shoots its pollen lumps (pollinia) onto the bee’s back. If the bee then visits a plant with female flowers, cross-pollination can occur.

Photo by Olga Martha Montiel.

Species: Gongora claviodora 
Where it’s from: Costa Rica, Nicaragua 
When it was described: 1972
Who described it: Robert Dressler
Conservation status: Unknown

Robert Dressler found this orchid along a road leading to the Orosi volcano in Costa Rica and named it clavidora, meaning odor of cloves. Under natural conditions the plant produces a long, flowering stem that curves downward dangling its flowers as they open. Unlike many tropical orchids, it tolerates a broad range of elevations and daily temperatures. It is still known as the clove-scented orchid in the horticulture trade. 

Photo by Gerrit Davidse.

Species: Spiranthes vernalis 
Where it’s from: United States
When it was described 1845
Who described it: George Engelmann and Asa Gray
Conservation status: Unknown

This species was named jointly by physician George Engelmann, a founder of the Missouri Academy of Science and the Garden’s first scientist, and Asa Gray, Harvard’s first professor of Botany, this very American orchid continues to grow wild in southern Missouri and 29 other states. Although it is named vernalis (spring), it may bloom as early as January in Florida and as late as October in parts of New England. Primarily a wildflower of wet meadows and prairies it is known to colonize rural roadsides and cemeteries.

Catherine Martin
Public Information Officer

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