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Stunning New Orchid Species Discovered

By Agata Blaszczak-Boxe
4/22/2014 9:55:03 AM

A gorgeous species of orchid in Panama has a new name - it was named after the family of the researcher who discovered the flower.

The orchid, which belongs to the Lophiaris genus, was named Lophiaris silverarum after Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father, who discovered the plant about eight years ago while they were hiking in a mountainous area of central Panama.

"I have always liked orchids, since I was a kid," said Silvera, who grew up surrounded by orchids because her parents own a commercial orchid business in Panama. "That got me into studying biology," Silvera said. [See Stunning Photos of the New Orchids]

She and her father had gone out looking for potential new plant species. When they found the orchid, they contacted orchid expert German Carnevali.

Lophiaris silverarum. Credit: Katia Silvera, UC Riverside

"After looking at the plant for a while, he informed us that it was a new species, and that it was very rare," Silvera told Live Science.

However, the new species was not actually named until recently, as describing a new plant species tends to be a long process. Researchers usually have to study the plant's structures and examine its biochemistry to determine whether it is indeed a species that has not been described before, Silvera said.

Researchers estimate that about 30,000 known orchid species exist worldwide, and there are likely many others that have not been discovered. In Panama, there are about 1,100 known orchid species, whereas the United States hosts about 200 described species.

"Discovering a new [orchid] species is a rare thing," Silvera said, partially because the plants tend to grow in areas that are difficult to access. Human development of land also interferes with such discoveries.

"The diversity of orchids is best seen in the tropics, where, unfortunately, habitat is being destroyed very fast," Silvera said in a statement. "As a result, we are rapidly losing the diversity of orchid species."

The study describing Lophiaris silverarum was published March 13 in the journal Phytotaxa.

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