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'like they were spun from glass'

New species of orchid discovered in Japan

Researchers in Japan recently identified a new species of orchid that's growing unexpectedly in parks, gardens, and balconies around the country. The flower has "pink-and-white blooms so delicate and fragile they look like they were spun from glass," CNN reports. 

The flower closely resembles and is a close relative to a common orchid species in Japan. Orchids in the Spiranthes genus, often called "ladies' tresses," have "a central stem, around which grow an ascending spiral of tiny, bell-shaped flowers that can be white, pink, purple, or yellow," CNN explains. Spiranthes is the most familiar orchid in Japan, according to the study's lead author Professor Kenji Suetsugu of Kobe University's Division of Biodiversity, Ecology, and Speciation. There are around 50 species of Spiranthes, but only one of them, Spiranthes australis (S. australis), was thought to grow on the mainland.

While surveying the mainland for S. australis, Suetsugu discovered flowers presumed to be S. australis but lacking the typical hairy stems. That hairless variety also flowered around a month earlier than S. australis typically did, "another indication these rogue orchids might not be S. australis," Suetsugu told CNN in an email.

Between 2012 and 2022, the team searched for hairless orchids and analyzed their physical features, genetics, and reproductive processes. They discovered populations of the newfound orchid in Tokyo near Hachijo Island, prompting them to name the new species "Spiranthes hachijoensis," as reported in the Journal of Plant Research

"This discovery of new species concealed in common locales underscores the necessity of persistent exploration, even in seemingly unremarkable settings!" Suetsugu said to CNN. "It also highlights the ongoing need for taxonomic and genetic research to accurately assess species diversity."