The extinct orchid that was in hiding

Botanists thought it was extinct. Was it really? As it turned out, the story took a turn. It is the species called Prasophyllum morganii. It is commonly known as the leek mignonette orchid. It is the extinct orchid that was in hiding. In fact it has been hiding in plain sight.

The extinct orchid that was hiding in plain sight is a surprise to botanists.
Extinct orchid that was hidden in plain sight is a surprise to botanists.

Threatened species

This orchid was first collected from a single population in the subalps of Victoria, Australia, in 1929. But it had not been collected since 1933, despite extensive surveys by orchid enthusiasts. It was considered extinct by the Flora and Fauna Assurance Act of 1988. It was also believed to be extinct by the Endangered Species Scientific Council.

In 2000, a similar-looking orchid was described in Kosciuszko National Park, New South Wales. It was named Prasophyllum retroflexum. It is commonly known as the Kiandra leek orchid. However, here comes the surprise. The team showed that it is, in fact, Prasophyllum morganii. The extinct orchid that was hiding in plain sight.

Dr. Noushka Reiter is a co-author of the paper. She is also a senior research scientist at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. She says the findings, which are presented in Phytotaxa, will help conserve the species.

Knowing more about this species will help its conservation.
Knowing more about this species will help its conservation.

Orchid protection

“It was a pleasant surprise to learn that Prasophyllum morganii still exists. However, it is still endangered and we must protect it.” She says that good taxonomy, which is the accurate description of plants and animals, is required. This strengthens the conservation of rare and endangered plants such as these. “Therefore, we need to better understand orchid species, their characteristics, distribution and ecology. This way we can improve our ability to conserve them,” he explains.

The team analyzed specimens of this original type of orchid. Also 33 herbarium- and field-collected specimens to arrive at the result.

The species is found mainly in southeastern Australia. There are an estimated 207 species of Prasophyllum. Many of these have not yet been formally described. 39 are listed nationally as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. This is what the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 says.

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