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First night-flowering orchid found in Asia

By Matthew Knight, CNN
updated 10:18 AM EST, Tue November 22, 2011
The Bulbophyllum nocturnum is the first of around 25,000 orchid species to flower at night. The Bulbophyllum nocturnum is the first of around 25,000 orchid species to flower at night.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Botanists discover first night-flowering orchid on island near Papua New Guinea
  • Buds produce a flower which opened at 10pm before closing twelve hours later
  • First of around 25,000 orchid species to do so and one of only hundreds of plants

London (CNN) -- The first night-flowering orchid known to science has been discovered by botanists on an island in Southeast Asia.

The new species, called Bulbophyllum nocturnum, is the first which has flowers which consistently open up at night and close in the morning, say botanists.

It was found by Dutch orchid specialist Ed de Vogel during a field trip to the island of New Britain, near Papua New Guinea.

After gaining permission to collect orchids from a logging area on the island de Vogel took them back to the Netherlands for cultivation at the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden.

The orchid starting producing buds but would wilt once they reached the size at which they would usually open. Or so de Vogel thought.

It was only when he took the plant home that he was able to observe the buds opening at night.

This is another reminder that surprising discoveries can still be made
Andre Schuiteman, orchid specialist

According to de Vogel, the buds would flower at 10pm before closing again around twelve hours later. The flowers only last one night.

Botanists aren't sure why this species flowers after dark but suggest it might be because its pollinators are midges which forage at night.

The newly-described orchid belongs to a group of species called Epicrianthes which are noteworthy for their bizarre flowers and strange appendages, according to botanists.

Only a small amount of all known plant species flower at night, says Andre Schuiteman, an orchid specialist from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London.

"There must be hundreds, but only a few are relatively well known because they are cultivated," Schuiteman said.

These include the queen of the night cactus, the midnight horror tree and the night blooming jasmine, according to Kew.

But until now not one of the estimated 25,000 orchid species on Earth was known to do the same.

"This is another reminder that surprising discoveries can still be made. But it's a race against time to find species like this that only occur in primeval forests. As we all know, such forests are disappearing fast," Schuiteman said.

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