Plant diversity and endemism in China: unreachable locations and diverse microclimates

The newly described Bulbophyllum reflexipetalum

A new issue of the scholarly, open-access and peer-reviewed journal PhytoKeys focuses on the Chinese biodiversity hotspots and their substantial role in understanding the country’s unique flora. The special issue embarks on a treasure hunt into China’s biodiversity hotspots, including the descriptions of 23 species previously unknown to science and new insights into the ecological diversity of ferns based on their DNA sequences.

In China, biodiversity-rich landscapes vary from the dry Northwest region, through the surrounded by massive mountain ranges of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, to the tropical and subtropical southern China. The combination of remote and hard to reach mountain areas and diverse microclimates promises high levels of endemism.


“With extended collaboration among Chinese scientists and coordination of networks on plant conservation and taxonomy across China, we synthesize a special issue entitled “Revealing the plant diversity in China’s biodiversity hotspots”, to present the latest findings by Chinese botanists, and to update knowledge of the flora for China and adjacent countries”, explained De-Zhu Li, professor of botany at Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), in the editorial.

Among the newly described species, four new members of the African violet family were found from a subtropical forest in Yunnan province in southern China, discovered by researchers from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, CAS and their collaborators. Half of them were found only from a sole population and require further botanical examinations to deploy the conservation priorities, remark the scientists.

In another paper, scientists Yun-Feng Huang and Li-Na Dong and Wei-Bin Xu, representatives of Guangxi Institute of Botany, revealed the discovery of a new species from the primrose family. Found nowhere outside the limestone areas in Liucheng county (Guangxi, China), this rare plant species is currently facing serious threats of extinction because of the fragility and sensitivity of its habitat to the environmental changes associated with the rapid economic development of China.


The newly described Lysimachia fanii
Credit: Yun-Feng Huang, Li-Na Dong, Wei-Bin Xu
License: CC-BY 4.0

Another team from the Guizhou University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and KIB describes a new representative of the parachute flowers. Ceropegia jinshaensis, characterized by the shape and size of its leaves and flowers. 


“More conservation efforts are needed in this region to counteract the increasing anthropogenic disturbance and destruction”, state the leading authors from KIB, who discovered a new species of orchid in the Eastern Himalaya biodiversity hotspot.

The special issue features the description of additional two orchid species, discovered in Motuo, located at the Himalayan border between China, Myanmar and India. The region is well known for its vertical vegetation system, varying from tropical forest to permanent glaciers. Ji-Dong Ya and Cheng Liu from the KIB and Xiao-Hua Jin from the Institute of Botany, CAS underline that the difficult access to the area allows the thriving and diversification of plants. 

Find the complete “Revealing the plant diversity in China’s biodiversity hotspots” special issue openly published in PhytoKeys at: https://phytokeys.pensoft.net/issue/1703/

Orchid or Demon: Flower of a new species of orchid looks like a devil’s head

A lone and unique population of about 30 reddish to dark violet-maroon orchids grows on the small patch of land between the borders of two Colombian departments. However, its extremely small habitat is far from the only striking thing about the new species.

A closer look at its flowers’ heart reveals what appears to be a devil’s head. Named after its demonic patterns, the new orchid species, Telipogon diabolicus, is described in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

Discovered by Dr Marta Kolanowska and Prof Dariusz Szlachetko, both affiliated with University of Gdansk, Poland, together with Dr Ramiro Medina Trejo, Colombia, the new orchid grows a stem measuring between 5.5 – 9 cm in height.

With its only known habitat restricted to a single population spread across a dwarf montane forest at the border between departments Putumayo and Nariño, southern Colombia, the devilish orchid is assigned as a Critically Endangered species in the IUCN Red List.

Although the curious orchid could be mistakenly taken for a few other species, there are still some easy to see physical traits that make the flower stand out. Apart from the demon’s head hidden at the heart of its colours, the petals themselves are characteristically clawed. This feature has not been found in any other Colombian species of the genus.close-up

“In the most recent catalogue of Colombian plants almost 3600 orchid species representing nearly 250 genera are included,” remind the authors. “However, there is no doubt that hundreds of species occurring in this country remain undiscovered. Only in 2015 over 20 novelties were published based on material collected in Colombia.”

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Original source:

Kolanowska M, Szlachetko DL, Trejo RM (2016) Telipogon diabolicus (Orchidaceae, Oncidiinae), a new species from southern Colombia. PhytoKeys 65: 113-124. doi:10.3897/phytokeys.65.8674

Serendipitous orchid: An unexpected species discovered in Mexican deciduous forests

A new elegant orchid species that grows on rocks in deciduous forests of the Pacific slope of Oaxaca state, Mexico, has finally put an end to a long standing dispute among taxonomists. ‘Sheltered’ under the name of a close relative, the plant has been proved by a research team, led by Dr. Leopardi-Verde, to be different enough for a species of its own. Its distinct features, including shape, size and colors, are discussed and published in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

When scientists Drs. Carlos L. Leopardi-Verde, Universidad de Colima and Centro de Investigacion Cientifica de Yucatan, German Carnevali and Gustavo A. Romero-Gonzalez, both affiliated with Centro de Investigacion Cientifica de Yucatan and Harvard University Herbaria, stumbled across a beautiful orchid in bloom, they found themselves so surprised by its unique colors and forms that later on they chose the specific epithet inopinatus, meaning “unexpected”.

One of the most distinctive characters of the new plant is the yellow labellum patterned with crimson to reddish brown lines. Typically for its species complex, this orchid’s leaves are wide and leatherlike and the flowers are relatively large, showy, and leathery to fleshy-leathery petals and sepals. The color of the flowers varies from bronze-green with dark purple lines near the base to pale pink and creamy white splashed with reddish-brown spots and lines towards the top.

The plant is between 30 and 42 cm tall, while together with its flowers it reaches between 80 and 90 cm. Each branch of the inflorescence bears from 3 to 8 flowers, which bloom between March and July. Having been recorded only from a few sites on the Pacific slope of Oaxaca state, Mexico, the species appears to be rare.

The authors explain the similarities between the new species and its close relatives. They also discuss the long-held confusion about its taxonomic placement. As a result of the study, a hypothesis about hybridization that has played a role in the evolution and origin of the novelty has been refuted.

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Original source:

Leopardi-Verde CL, Carnevali G, Romero-Gonzalez GA (2016) Encyclia inopinata (Orchidaceae, Laeliinae) a new species from Mexico. PhytoKeys 58: 87-95. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.58.6479

Known from flower stalls as ‘Big Pink’ orchid proved to be an undescribed wild species

As easy as it might seem, seeking new species among cultivated plants could be actually quite tricky. While looking into the undescribed orchid, known at the market as ‘Big Pink’, Bobby Sulistyo and his team were likely to find yet another man-made hybrid. In reality, they are now describing as ‘new’ a wild orchid species that has been sitting at the flower stalls since 2013. The story behind their discovery is published in the open access journal PhytoKeys.

While studying a cultivated plant might be quite a motivator and serve as a starting point for scientific quests around the world, the assumptions that one has found a new species at the florist’s could easily be wrong. Not only is the place of origin, written on the label, often doubtful, but there is always the chance of accidentally describing a man-made hybrid as a new species.

Such could have been the case of Bobby Sulistyo and his team when they discovered that although previously assumed impossible, the relatives of ‘Big Pink’, they were surveying, could also make human-assisted hybrids. Moreover, both of the specimens they have had at hand had come from uncertain place of origin.

However, the scientists conducted a series of sophisticated DNA analyses to conclude that firstly, ‘Big Pink’ is a separate species within its genus and then, that there is no evidence for it being an artificial hybrid. Eventually, the species was found in the wild as well. As a result, the orchid species was given the official name Dendrochilum hampelii.

In the wild, ‘Big Pink’ is found at around 1,200 m above sea level in the Philippines, where it harmlessly plants its roots on tree trunks and branches among mosses.

So far, little is known about the orchid’s distribution in nature, so the researchers suggest its conservation status to be considered as Data Deficient according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN 2012).

 

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Original source:

Sulistyo B, Boos R, Cootes J, Gravendeel B (2015) Dendrochilum hampelii (Coelogyninae, Epidendroideae, Orchidaceae) traded as ‘Big Pink’ is a new species, not a hybrid: evidence from nrITS, matK and ycf1 sequence data. PhytoKeys 56: 83-97. doi:10.3897/phytokeys.56.5432