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Ogasawara's 'mysterious orchid' discovered for first time in 79 years

The bloom of the "illusionary orchid" Liparis hostifolia. (Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Nature and Science's Tsukuba Botanical Garden)

A species of orchid thought to have gone extinct was discovered for the first time in 79 years on Tokyo's southern Ogasawara island chain, the National Museum of Nature and Science announced on Nov. 17.

    The "shimakumokiriso" orchid (Liparis hostifolia) is a mysterious plant. Being a close relative of orchids that live in regions with cooler climates, it is unknown how it came to inhabit the subtropical Ogasawara islands. The answers to that and other questions are expected with this new discovery.

    A survey team made up of members from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and elsewhere discovered in June the bulb of an unknown species of flower that had not yet bloomed in a forest about 700 meters above sea level on Minami Iwo-to island, some 300 kilometers south of Chichijima Island. Three bulbs of the plant were taken as samples to the national museum's Tsukuba Botanical Garden in Ibaraki Prefecture to be raised. On Nov. 16, a purple-veined flower with a roughly 1-centimeter diameter bloomed from an approximately 12-centimeter-tall plant. From the blossom's shape and DNA, it was found that the plant was an example of the orchid Liparis hostifolia.

    With the Ogasawara island chain never having been connected to the continent, and each island lying some 1,000 kilometers from Japan's central Honshu island, the Ogasawara has a trove of species unique to the islands. However, those unique species either went extinct or are threatened due to island development and invasive species. The orchid had last been seen on Chichijima Island in 1938.

    People are prohibited from making a landing on Minami Iwo-to island where the orchid was rediscovered, and this may be the reason that it managed to survive. The Tsukuba Botanical Garden will have the mysterious flower out for public display from Nov. 19 to 26.

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