American botanist Lou Jost discovers world's smallest orchid

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Platystele, shown against a ruler.
Image: Lou Jost.

American botanist Lou Jost, one of the world's leading orchid hunters, has discovered the smallest orchid in the world among the roots of a larger plant in a nature reserve in Bolivia, South America. The 2.1mm wide flowers have transparent petals, which are only one cell thick. The finding tops the previous record of Platystele jungermannioides with 2.5mm flowers.

Lou Jost discovered the new species accidentally, looking at a bigger plant from the Cerro Candelaria reserve in the eastern Andes. The reserve was created by a British organisation World Land Trust in partnership with Fundacion EcoMinga, for which the discoverer works. In fact, Ecuador is the place of discovery of more than 1,000 new species of orchids in the past century.

"I found it among the roots of another plant that I had collected, another small orchid which I took back to grow in my greenhouse to get it to flower. A few months later I saw that down among the roots was a tiny little plant that I realised was more interesting than the bigger orchid. Looking at the flower is often the best way to be able to identify which species of orchid you've got hold of – and can tell you whether you're looking at an unknown species or not." he said.

The finding was identified as belonging to genus Platystele, like the previous record holder, and is the 60th new species of orchid that Dr Jost had discovered in the past decade.