Archive for November 22nd, 2011

Here today, Maybe gone tomorrow

The irony of discovery and progress.

Dutch botanists have made a remarkable discovery. The discovery was made possible by the logging industry on the island of New Britain near Papua New Guinea; the irony is that the very industry that created the opportunity for the discovery, may well be the author of its demise:

Botanists discover ‘remarkable’ night-flowering orchid

The Bulbophyllum nocturnum is the first orchid species, out of about 25,000, to only flower at night

A night-flowering orchid, the first of its kind known to science, has been described by a team of botanists.

Experts say the “remarkable” species is the only orchid known to consistently flower at night, but why it has adopted this behaviour remains a mystery.

The plant was discovered by a Dutch researcher during an expedition to New Britain, an island near Papua New Guinea.

The findings appear in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.

“It was so unexpected because there are so many species of orchids and not one was known [to flower] at night only,” said co-author Andre Schuiteman, senior researcher and an orchid expert at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

“It was quite remarkable to find one, after so many years of orchid research, that is night-flowering,” he told BBC News.

Papua New Guinea

The specimen was discovered by co-author Ed de Vogel during a field trip in a region of lowland rainforest on the South-East Asian island.

One-night stand

Its unique flowering behaviour only came to light after the specimen was taken back to the Netherlands.

Dr de Vogel took the plant home in an attempt to understand why its buds appeared to wither when they reached a size that would normally produce 2cm flowers.

To his surprise, he observed the flowers open a few hours after dusk and remain open until a few hours after sunrise.

The flowers opened for one night only, explaining why the buds appeared to be preparing to open one day, yet be withered the next day.

The specimen has been identified as belonging to the Bulbophyllum genus, which – with about 2,000 species – is the largest group in the orchid family.

While there are a number of orchids that do attract night-time pollinators, B. nocturnum is the first known species that exclusively flowers at night.

Double-edged sword’

Mr Schuiteman said the exact reason why B. nocturnum only flowered at night would remain a mystery until further field studies had been completed.

New Britain is the largest island in the Bismarck Archipelago (named after Otto von Bismarck) of Papua New Guinea

However, time may be against them as the location in western New Britain where the original specimen was found lay within a logging area.

“It was previously inaccessible but now the area has been opened by logging,” Mr Schuiteman said, adding that was an area that needed to be explored because there were probably many more species waiting to be described.

He said the logging activity was a double-edged sword because Papua New Guinea’s government had granted logging licences in the area meant that it created roads that had allowed the plant hunters to carry out their exploration, yet it was an activity that could threaten the long-term survival of the species.

Source: BBC News Read more

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