'The world's ugliest orchid' is among the plants that are new to science in 2020, and it looks like a rotten, gaping mouth

'The world's ugliest orchid' is among the plants that are new to science in 2020, and it looks like a rotten, gaping mouth
Gastrodia agnicellus, which the Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew have dubbed "the world's ugliest orchid."Rick Burian/RBG Kew
  • Meet Gastrodia agnicellus, recently categorized by scientists, and also known as "the ugliest orchid in the world."
  • The plant has no leaves or photosynthetic tissue, meaning it's a shiny off-brown and looks like a gaping, toothless mouth.
  • It's one of several species highlighted by the Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew that were newly named by scientists in 2020.
  • Many of the other plants that are new to science this year are easier on the eye.

A flower previously unknown to science has been named by botanists - but it's more easily remembered by its nickname as "the world's ugliest orchid."

The Royal Botanical Gardens in London has released its highlights of the plant species newly named in 2020.

Topping the list is Gastrodia agnicellus, an orchid found in the forests of Madagascar with no leaves or any photosynthetic tissue.
Advertisement
This means it's a glistening light brownish color and looks like something from a horror movie.

"The 11mm flowers of this orchid are small, brown and rather ugly," the gardens said in a statement.

With no ability to photosynthesize, it gets its nutrition from fungi and its flowers release dust-like seeds to reproduce. It is currently considered a threatened species, but some examples grow in a protected park.
Advertisement

"Most people think of orchids as showy, vibrant and beautiful, but Gastrodia agnicellus ... is quite the opposite," said the gardens.

Many other, prettier finds were named in 2020

'The world's ugliest orchid' is among the plants that are new to science in 2020, and it looks like a rotten, gaping mouth
This is what we usually expect from orchids.1-800-Flowers
156 plants were named by the Royal Botanical Gardens and its partners this year. They represent the "amazing breadth of new species named every year and highlight the incredible diversity of species out there still to be found and documented," said the center's statement.
Advertisement

These include a knobbly Namibian shrub thought to be related to a cabbage, a toadstool that was found next to Heathrow Airport in London, and a jazzy hot pink hibiscus found in Australia.

Tiganophyton karasense - a whole new plant family, named after a frying pan

'The world's ugliest orchid' is among the plants that are new to science in 2020, and it looks like a rotten, gaping mouth
Picture caption: Tiganophyton karasense has similar DNA to a cabbage.Wessel Swanepoel/RBG Kew

About 200 new plants are named every year, according to the gardens. It's much rarer to identify a new plant family. That's what happened with the scaly, knobbly Tiganophyton karasense that grows in southern Namibia.

In 2010, botanist Wessel Swanepoel noticed it looked basically like nothing else. The gardens confirmed that its DNA is similar to that of a cabbage, but still didn't fit any of the plants in this order.
Advertisement

Fewer than 1,000 examples are known to exist, and it deals with some of the hottest, driest conditions in the country.

It grows in baking hot natural salt pans. The name literally means "frying pan plant," from the Greek tygani (frying pan) and phyton (plant).

Hibiscus hareyae - 'discovered' online

'The world's ugliest orchid' is among the plants that are new to science in 2020, and it looks like a rotten, gaping mouth
The Hibiscus Hareyae, found in Australia.Ian Darbyshire/RBG Kew
This flower was spotted online by Australian hibiscus specialist Lex Thomson, who was scouring historical plant images and came across this - but Thomson noted that it had several features not previously observed in other hibiscuses.
Advertisement
As it grows in the hot, dry climate of Southern Tanzania scientists have high hopes for cultivating it as it can withstand much higher temperatures than other widely-cultivated hibiscuses.

Cortinarius heatherae, a toadstool found at Heathrow Airport

'The world's ugliest orchid' is among the plants that are new to science in 2020, and it looks like a rotten, gaping mouth
Toadstool mushroom found at HeathrowAndy Overall/RBG Kew

Botanists are generally expected to do their work in untouched zones of the world, but this toadstool was found next to one of the world's largest aviation hubs: Heathrow Airport in London.

It's one of six new species of toadstool named in the UK this year, and was spotted by field mycologist (fungus specialist) Andy Overall. He named it after his wife Heather.
Advertisement
{{}}