Space & Innovation

Demon Orchid? New Flower Looks Like Yelling Devil

Orchid flowers or the head of a screaming devil?

A new orchid has been found in a "dwarf" Colombian forest, but the plant's tiny habitat is not its only claim to floral fame: the orchid's flowers resemble the head of a screaming devil.

The orchid is appropriately named Telipogon diabolicus, or "Diabolical Telipogon." The second word refers to a large genus of flowering plants in the orchid family. It's described in the latest issue of the journal PhytoKeys.

Lead author Marta Kolanowska of The University of Gdańsk clarifies, "The specific name refers to the distinctive gynostemium which resembles (a) devil's head."

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The gynostemium is a reproductive structure found in certain plants. It's derived from the fusion of both male and female parts -- the stamens and pistil -- into a single organ.

Kolanowska and her colleagues Dariusz Szlachetko and Ramiro Medina Trejo discovered the orchid in what they describe as a "dwarf montane forest" between the provinces (called departments) of Putamayo and Nariño in southern Colombia.

Not many of the plants are known to exist.

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As the researchers wrote, "The population, which was observed during the field study, consists of about 30 specimens of which only several were adult, flowering plants."

Because so few have been documented, the scientists say the orchid should be considered "Critically Endangered" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

A road near the plant's habitat is undergoing reconstruction, putting the plant in immediate danger of extinction unless it gets conservation protections.

The gynostemium sports what appears to be an open, angry mouth. The "head" has what look to be eyes complete with color dots for eyeballs.

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The orchid's petals are "prominently clawed," according to the researchers, who say that this feature has not been found in any other Colombian species of the genus.

It is likely that other orchids unknown exist in Colombia.

The authors report: "In the most recent catalogue of Colombian plants, almost 3600 orchid species representing nearly 250 genera are included. However, there is no doubt that hundreds of species occurring in this country remain undiscovered."