PIC: Rare orchid species found in SA brings hope to Cape Floristic Region

2017-08-07 14:58 - Kavitha Pillay
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Cape Town – After the Cape Flower show was postponed earlier this year due to the Western Cape’s drought, some plant enthusiasts have become despondent and concerned about the well-being of the province’s flora.

However, adding a glimmer of hope amid the myriad of negativity and decline that our global environment is currently facing, a rare orchid species has been identified in the Cape region.

South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) says that the new orchid species has been discovered in the Kogelberg Mountains of the Cape Floristic Region.

SEE: Cape Flower show postponed due to drought

The plant, named Satyrium liltvedianum, was first discovered in November 2009 after a veld fire in the Kogelberg Mountains – which is one of the most “species-rich” areas of the Cape Floristic Region.

“Fires stimulate flowering of orchids and other geophytic plant species in the region,” says SANBI.

According to SANBI, the new species resembled several species of Satyrium, but differed in various aspects. It shows a “maroon colouration of the stem, sheathing leaves and white flowers” and is characterised by the size, shape and orientation of sepals and lateral petals.


Dr Timotheus van der Niet, a lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, discovered the species while searching for orchids after the fire. After genetic and chemical analyses, he described the species in the South African Journal of Botany.

“This species is named in honour of William Rune Liltved who, over the past two decades, has made an invaluable contribution to recording the orchids of the Cape Floristic Region. This work culminated in the publication of the book The Cape Orchids,” he says.

A rare beauty

There’s no doubt that orchids are strikingly attractive and this particular beauty was found  “on a rocky southeast-facing slope in shallow peaty soil derived from Table Mountain Sandstone”.

According to SANBI, there is only a single population in the Steenbras catchment area of the Kogelberg Mountains, while Van der Niet adds that “Many inflorescences in the population had been removed, presumably chewed off by small antelope”.

ALSO SEE: PICS: Rare orchid discovered in Fernkloof Nature Reserve

He says that similar to other orchids in the area, Satyrium liltvedianum is known “only from a single localised population of about 50 individuals” making the species “highly vulnerable”.

Van der Niet says there are many reasons why efforts to discover and describe species should be ongoing as “only recognised taxa can be adequately conserved”.

“The success of scientific research often depends on sound taxonomic classification”.

“Much of earth’s biotic diversity is currently highly threatened and many species are on the brink of extinction or have recently gone extinct, which provides a great sense of urgency to taxonomic enterprise,” he says.

SANBI’s Biodiversity Information Management Forum

The news of the orchid also comes just ahead of SANBI’s Biodiversity Information Management Forum that takes place from 14 August to 17 August, at the Salt Rock Hotel and Beach Resort in KwaZulu-Natal.

SANBI says that the Forum provides an opportunity for the biodiversity data community in South Africa to share information, discuss practices and explore ways of improving the efficiency and impact of work.

SEE: Citizen Science: Identify a plant from a picture with 'Shazam' for plants

SANBI also invites delegates to showcase their work, achievements and questions related to the sessions and workshop themes. For more information about the key session and themes, click here.

Registration for the Forum is free to delegates. To find out about registration documents and the programme, click here.

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