New Orchid to science named after Gozo

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New Orchid to science named after GozoOrchids are a family of plants which are considered among the most evolved in the kingdom of plants. They are thought to have been descended from the family of lilies and which had evolved very quickly to become among the most adapted and diverse flowering plants in the world.

The odd names of some orchids, such as the Flying duck orchid, the Naked man orchid, the Holy ghost orchid and the Octopus orchid witness with some imagination the diversity of this family.

The way orchids evolved allowed them to grow on tree branches in tropical forests rather then in soil, although in Europe all orchids are terrestrial. The morphological evolution of orchids is mostly manifested in their flowers principally to over compete other neighbouring flowering plants for attracting pollinators towards them.

Some orchid flowers evolved to have trapping chambers or love cages such as in the Lady slipper orchids (e. g. Cypripedium species). Others group of orchids called the ploughshare orchids (Serapias species) provide a warm shelter to attract them during adverse weather conditions. Other orchids produce highly scented flowers (e. g. Vanilla species) or large and highly coloured flowers (e.g. Phalaenopsis and Cymbidium species) which are commercially found for sale in nurseries.

Still, the most amazing strategy to attract pollinators is that found in the Bee orchids (Ophrys species) where the shape, colour and scent of their flowers mimic female insects, primarily bees or wasps to attract specifically males and luring them to copulate, so as to carry out pollination, hence the transfer of pollen from one orchid to another.

Some 20 bee orchids occur in the Maltese Islands of which three are reported to be found only in Malta and hence termed as endemic. The Maltese spider orchid (Ophrys melitensis) and the Maltese pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis subsp. urvilleana) are both well known species for those who enjoy walking the rocky parts of the Maltese countryside. The swollen-chested brown bee orchid (Ophrys tumentia) which was a recently described from Mellieha and Mgarr is less encountered and is thought to be a hybrid. The small-flowered bumble bee orchid (Ophrys bombyliflora var. parviflora) also described from Pembroke, Malta about 10 years ago has been found in few other countries in the Mediterranean region.

During his research about orchids, botanist and orchid expert Stephen Mifsud, working at ecoGozo (Ministry for Gozo) and author of the book Orchids of the Maltese Islands, encountered a very rare orchid known as the Sawfly orchid in Gozo.

However, the exciting news was still to come when another orchid spotted in the vicinity of the sawfly orchid was not familiar to him. This became more interesting when after studying all the morphological characteristics of this individual, it did not match out with any described orchid.

Further studies made it evident that this orchid is a hybrid between the endemic Maltese spider orchid and the Sawfly orchid, both growing together.

Mr. Mifsud published a scientific paper to formally describe the new orchid from Gozo and which he named it for the island using the botanical name Ophrys gaulosana, attributed for the old name used for the island of Gozo – Gaulos.

It is the first time that a scientific name alluding to Gozo is validly given for a plant; indeed most endemic plants bear the name ‘melitensis’ (belonging to Malta). The common name for this orchid is the Gozo Spider Orchid (or Gozo bee Orchid) or in Maltese Brimba t’ Ghawdex.

Only one plant has been found in Gozo and it is currently reckoned as an endemic to Gozo. The rarity of one parent (the sawfly orchid) in the Maltese islands and the endemism of the other parent makes the Gozitan Bee orchid as one of the rarest terrestrial orchids.

The orchid is characterised with pink sepals and a very small shiny patch originating from one parent (sawfly orchid); shaggy long hair and a lance-shaped upper petals inherited from the other parent (Maltese spider orchid) and a mixture of yellow and brown hair considered as an intermediate state from both parents. Overall the orchid has a unique light brown colour with mauve sepals and a bright, small horseshoe-pattern at the centre.

The directorate of EcoGozo within the Ministry for Gozo said that it is delighted that the research invested is giving such important results for our local biodiversity and the environment.

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    7 Responses

    1. Sandra Formosa says:

      This is really lovely, an orchid which is only found and named after Gozo. Well done to ecogozo and its dedicated staff which merited the best directorate award in Gozo. I will keep my eyes wide open for this orchid, which has a unique light brown colour. Is the mentioned book sold from Gozo?

    2. Joseph Zammit says:

      Prosit tassew lis-Sur Stephen Mifsud (u grazzi tal-website utili li ghamilt), u lil Ministeru t’Ghawdex li jinvesti fl-istharri? tal-ambjent tal-ghira sabiha taghna. Kien hemm bzonn li nharsu iktar l-ambjent ghax mimli sorprizi sbieh. Kellu bzonn li jkollna sorpriza sabiha fil-Eurovision ukoll il-lejla.

    3. Francis Vella says:

      Well done, keep it up.

    4. Gerard Wirth says:

      More so than ever care has to be taken pre-MEPA issues a building permit to ensure species like this beautiful orchid is not present…..

    5. anthony zammit says:

      Prosit tassew u grazzi lil dawk kollha li ghandhom ghall qalbhom dan ix-xoghol tant interessanti.

    6. Vincent cini says:

      Ahbar sabiha ferm, u nispera li jkun hemm xi tip ta konservazjoni ma jmurx tinqerd b’xi zvilup jew agir illegali u tinqered ghax kif jidher mil-artiklu, din rari u Ghawdex biss. Minn banda nixtieq li tinsab minn fejn sa tisbokka l-mina !!! Kurzita, ghala jghidula brimba jew spider orchid ???

    7. Stephen Mifsud says:

      Many thanks for the comments. Without making ads, the book can be found from main bookshops in Gozo (as well from mainland Malta). The name spider orchid is a bit misnomer as one expect to be pollinated by spiders or have spider shapes, which none is true. The name comes from the for the first orchid (Ophrys aranifera) which its flower had the shiny shape of a spider (known as speculum) and then all the species in this line described later kept the name “spider orchid”

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