A unique species of orchid has been discovered close to an active volcano in Colombia.
Pleurothallis villahermosae stands out for its “great beauty and originality”, according to experts, and was named after the town of Villahermosa, where it was found.
Researchers at the Jose Celestino Mutis botanical garden in Bogota, Colombia – along with an external investigator – came across the new species in the basin of a river close to the Nevado del Ruiz volcano, which stands at 5,321 metres (17,457 feet) and last erupted in 2020.
This was during one of their many expeditions to the site with the intention of both collecting and cultivating plant material for conservation purposes.
They then trekked across the forest surrounding the river to confirm that it was the only existing population of the species in its natural state.
The experts proceeded to photograph the plant in detail for future study before revealing their discovery on 14th July.
Researchers say the orchid’s reduced numbers could be due to common farm practices such as tree felling and field burning.
Its conservation status is yet to be determined.
Colombia is the most orchid-rich country in the world with nearly 4,400 varieties and, since 1936, the orchid Cattleya trianae has served as its national flower.
In a statement obtained by Newsflash, the botanical garden wrote: “Researchers from the Bogota Botanical Garden, together with an external researcher, recently discovered a new species of orchid in the Azufrado river basin, in the vicinity of the Nevado del Ruiz Volcano, which they described and named Pleurothallis villahermosae, in recognition of the municipality of Villahermosa, where it was found.
“The specialists Sierra-Ariza, Rincon-Gonzalez & Villanueva published this discovery made during several expeditions in the forests located in the Azufrado river basin in the municipality of Villahermosa, department of Tolima, where a single population of this species was found in its natural state. Next, the specimens were photographed, capturing in detail each one of their morphological characteristics to be studied in the herbarium in later stages.
“The newly identified species has physical characteristics of great beauty and originality, as can be seen in the images captured by the researchers, and is added to the general inventory of orchids in the country, which is constantly growing, approaching 4,400 varieties, thus confirming the leadership in the ranking of countries with the largest number of orchids in the world, Colombia being the first, followed by Ecuador and Costa Rica.
“This finding is of great relevance if one takes into account that only one population of this species with few individuals is known, for which the researchers recommended evaluating the state of conservation, since the low number of individuals observed could indicate characteristics of threat, associated with factors such as slash and burn for the expansion of the agricultural and livestock frontier.”