Internet photos are emerging of a strange looking plant called the Devil Orchid. With such a diabolical name, could it be real, or is this just another figment of a hoaxer’s imagination? Join CryptoVille as we exorcise fact from fiction!
The story goes, peeping out from under the leaves and debris on the floor of a tropical forest, are the glaring maroon-colored faces, complete with horns, of little devils. Is this some tribal legend, or the product of a fever-fueled hallucination?
Hard to believe, but this one is real! (Photo by scientists, above right.) Scientists discovered this new species of orchid in southern Colombia, on the border between the regional jurisdictions of Putumayo and Nariño, living in a forest. There were about 30 of the orchids, only a few of which were blooming.
They named the new species Telipogon diabolicus because the center looks freakishly like a demon’s face. The scientists claim its petals look like claws, but for the life of me, I look at this orchid and I see normal looking flower petals – I don’t see the claw resemblance. No matter.
Like most plants and animals living in the rainforests of South America, scientists consider this new species critically endangered and have added it to the IUCN Red List.
Scientists Marta Kolanowska, Dariusz L. Szlachetko, and Ramiro Medina Trejo described their new discovery in an article on PhytoKeys.pensoft.net. They wrote, “This species is only known from the type specimens, which represent one location in [a] highly vulnerable habitat near the main road Pasto-Mocoa. It is expected that the current reconstruction of this road will have [a] negative impact on the habitat of T. diabolicus.”
I hope the scientists are wrong and that there are lots more places in the forests of Colombia where these oddities thrive.
As amazing as these demon orchids are, it’s even more amazing to realize that science has described 3,600 different species of orchids living in Colombia, which represent almost 250 genera. And the scientists firmly believe there must be hundreds more to catalog.
Orchids certainly are amazing plants. I thought you might enjoy the following fun facts about orchids:
25,000 Species and Counting
So far science has cataloged 25,000 species of orchids around the world. This includes very rare varieties often found in tropical rainforests of South America, but also includes species created by horticulturalists which they call hybrids. As mentioned, scientists are certain there are more to be discovered in South America, if they can keep ahead of the forces demolishing the fragile forests.
One thing all orchids have in common is something called bilateral symmetry which means if you draw a line down the center of the flower you will see that both sides mirror each other almost perfectly.
Guess what else has bilateral symmetry? The human face. Scientist Tom Mirenda (of Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History) says, “When someone looks at an orchid, it looks back at you.”
Normally this would be ok, but maybe we don’t want to stare at the devil orchid too long!!
You Remind Me of Somebody
Orchids try to trick insects into landing on their reproductive parts, the center of the flower called a gynostemium. The idea is that the bugs pick up the orchid’s pollen which sticks to them, then goes over to another orchid of the same species and fertilizes that one.
Because of this set-up, nature has been very creative with the layout of the orchid’s reproductive center. In the case of T.diabolicus, the center looks like a demon’s face. I’m thinking I may not want to know what that one is trying to attract!
Oldie But a Goodie
In 2007, scientists released a bee encased in amber to analyze it. They were surprised to find the pollen of an ancient orchid still stuck to its back. The fossil dated between 10-15 million years old, but there is some evidence that overall, orchids date back 120 million years.
Flavor to Savor
Would you believe vanilla comes from an orchid? It comes from the flat-leafed vanilla plant (Vanilla Planifolia) and is widely cultivated to keep up with the world’s demand for pure vanilla.
The plants grow on a vine and after the orchid is pollinated, it forms long pods that, when dried, become the vanilla beans that we know and love.
With Thanksgiving just behind us and Christmas coming soon, it’s amazing to think how much we rely on vanilla to make all our delicious treats and confections! Where would we be without it?
Thanks to the orchid family our lives are a little more tasty and flavorful, as well as amazing!
Til the next time!