Life at the mouth of a volcano

A rare species of orchid Platanthera azorica, known since the second half of the 19th century, was discovered by scientists in a volcano vent in the Azores. The first report of the find was published in Peer J by specialists from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

The purpose of the expedition, with which the botanists visited the Azores, was to study in more detail the genus Platanthera, growing in geographical isolation at a distance of 1600 km from Portugal. The main interest was represented by two hard-to-distinguish orchid species – P. pollostantha and P. micrantha. The study of genetic features and symbiotic fungi peculiar to each of these species showed that the first of them occurs throughout the archipelago, while the second occurs only on eight islands.

The botanists were pleasantly surprised by orchids with larger flowers than other specimens found on the top of the volcano in the center of San Jorge Island. DNA analysis determined that these plants did not belong to any of the species considered by scientists. Only through archival records did we know that the name of the find was Platanthera azorica and that it was discovered by the German botanist Carl Hoxtetter in 1838.

In the last 170 years, scientists have never encountered this species and therefore have long neglected its existence in the nomenclature when studying the orchid family. The original description from the discoverer was also very brief. According to Professor Richard Bateman, Platanthera azorica has every right to claim the title of the rarest of European orchids.