New Orchid to science named after Gozo
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Orchids 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.