Granted, 2020 was definitely not the year we all expected it to be - life changed drastically over the last eleven months in ways that we could only imagine. However, despite the madness of the whole pandemic, there were some wonderful discoveries in horticulture. Over 156 new species of plants and fungus were found - and among these was the ‘ugliest orchid in the world’. I had a chuckle to myself when I heard on BBC Radio 3 that scientists had found this awful-looking plant, and thought it was rather representative of the year we have had. However, these finds have the potential to be significant in creating new medicines and to be future food sources, but many of them - two fifths, in fact - are estimated to be under threat of extinction. The flower itself, as you can see, is small and brown in colour, which is ironically the opposite of typical orchid attributes, as they are usually flamboyantly elegant and vibrant. These orchids grow up to eight inches in height, which allows them to drop their seeds from above, permitting them to be dispersed more widely. However, the plant doesn’t have any leaves or photosynthetic tissue, so it has no ability to transform the sun’s energy into food, meaning that the flower relies solely on fungi for nutrition. However, only a small range of these flowers have actually been found, making them endangered. Luckily, though, the Madagascan park they are located in is already protected.
The second plant that grabbed my attention is slightly closer to home, in London in fact. There have been six newly named fungus species found in the UK this year, and this one was found by chance during a walk along the river on the boundary of Heathrow airport. All six of these web-cap fungi are of the Cortinarius genus - a genus that holds a key role in the carbon cycling of woodland, which very important in supporting the growth of trees such as oak beech, birch and pine by providing the with nitrogen.
The final plant that caught my eye was the Brazilian Bromeliad that was discovered growing on limestone in Brazil, which is reflected in its name, Acanthostachys calcicola. It is of the same family as the pineapple which is noticeable by its spiky leaves. However, despite searching other limestone areas nearby, no other plants were found. It is known that limestone areas have rare and unique plants, but these areas are also subject to quarrying of limestone for raw construction materials and the manufacturing of cement, which inevitably disrupts their ability to grow, resulting in their very few numbers.
It’s frustrating that despite the great news of discovering beautiful and interesting (some not so beautiful) new plants, that they are already under threat by deforestation, agriculture and fires caused by global warming. But this is the reality of our modern day world, and not only are the newly discovered plants at risk, but also many of our most beloved plants are under the same kinds of threats, too.