Gastrodia agnicellus of Madagascar has been named World's Ugliest Orchid by botanists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK. Here are some reasons why the plant has remained unknown for so long. G. agnicellus spends most of its life underground and appears only in August-September to bloom and bear fruit, before hiding underground again. Its flowers are only 11 millimeters long in color from brown to white, nondescript against the background of the earth.
But this is not at all her first discovery. Gastrodia agnicellus was already found in the Ifanadian region of southeastern Madagascar in the 1990s and attributed to the genus G. madagascariensis, according to the records of botanist Johan Hermans of Kew Gardens. However, during an expedition in September 2019 to Ranomafana National Park, in a moist evergreen forest in deep shade, we noticed several fruiting inflorescences among moss and fallen leaves. The flowers exuded a pleasant musky, rose-like scent that intensified as the temperature rose. It became clear that their qualities are very different from the previously described G. madagascariensis and before scientists a new species.
Like other members of the genus Gastrodia, the orchid has no leaves - in fact, it has no photosynthetic tissue at all. The orchid is a holomycotroph, which means that the plant receives nutrients exclusively through symbiosis with fungi. The fungus extracts them from the soil or other plants, and the orchid absorbs the necessary substances from the fungus. All orchids rely on this relationship early in life, but as they mature, this relationship disappears. The exact mechanism of the mycotrophic relationship in G. agnicellus is still unknown, and the plant is still poorly understood. Living under certain trees means that the mycorrhizal system of the flower is very specific.
It is also not yet clear how the plant is pollinated. Scientists have noticed ants crawling in flowers, and this is one of the possible paths for the spread of pollen. Later, the stem is elongated, this helps the seeds to spread. Unfortunately, the newly discovered G. agnicellus has already been recognized as an endangered species. The good news is that the orchid was found on the territory of the national park, which means that Gastrodia agnicellus claims to be protected from anthropogenic pressure.