One of the most beautiful vanilla orchid species in the Neotropical region grows in one of the most hostile environments in the Brazilian Cerrado, the Brazilian Campos Rupestres of the Espinhaço Range. “The Espinhaço refuges evolved between the Atlantic Forest and Amazonia Biomes as a consequence of extreme environmental conditions and climatic fluctuations during the Tertiary and Quaternary periods,” explains Emerson Ricardo Pansarin, one of the researchers behind the discovery of a new vanilla orchid.
What makes Vanilla rupicola remarkable is the fact that it grows on rock outcrops. “In this locality, Vanilla rupicola shows a reptant habit on rock outcrops and rooting in rock clefts. The elevation is from 800 to 1300 m a.s.l.,” the researchers write in their paper. Its flowers produce a sweet fragrance that can be noticed during the hottest hours of the day.
“For years we traveled through the mountains of the Espinhaço Range until we found the flowering population,” says Emerson Ricardo Pansarin.
“Vanilla rupicola emerges in an essentially Amazonian clade. It seems plausible that the ancestor of this new taxon derived from an Amazonian taxon adapted to the environmental conditions of the Espinhaço Range and evolved in this particular environment,” he adds.
Vanilla rupicola is a rare species currently known to grow in a mountain-chain of Diamantina, in the ERMG Espinhaço Range, and the researchers tentatively classify it as Endangered.
Pansarin ER, Menezes ELF (2023) A new remarkable Vanilla Mill. (Orchidaceae) species endemic to the Espinhaço Range, Brazil: its phylogenetic position and evolutionary relationships among Neotropical congeners. PhytoKeys 227: 151-165. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.227.101963