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Australia Fungi fossicker discovers 'highly significant' orchid species in Gold Coast hinterland

01:45  28 july  2021
01:45  28 july  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a hand holding a plant: Botanist Lachlan Copeland says the discovery of the small orchid species is significant. (Supplied: Joanne Lau) © Provided by ABC NEWS Botanist Lachlan Copeland says the discovery of the small orchid species is significant. (Supplied: Joanne Lau)

A fungi enthusiast has helped identify a new species of orchid during a hike in the Gold Coast hinterland.

Meredith Philistin took a photo of the unusual plant and sent it to her friend, Joanne Lau, who is an orchid enthusiast.

Ms Lau wasted no time in researching the plant.

"By the time she had finished her 20-kilometre walk I had contacted taxonomist Dr Lachlan Copeland," Ms Lau said.

"He said it didn't look like any orchid you would traditionally find in Lamington National Park."

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The next day Ms Lau walked 10 kilometres to the undisclosed area in the national park and searched for two hours to find the orchid.

"It really was like trying to find a needle in a haystack," she said.

"The stem is only 180-millimetres high and the flower is no bigger than your smallest fingernail.

"Dr Copeland said it was definitely smaller than anything else that is up there."

Next, Ms Lau got permission from the Queensland Herbarium to collect orchid samples and instructions from Dr Copeland on how to do it.

"We had to get a wet paper towel and a plastic ziplock bag which you blew into, in order to provide high levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen to preserve the orchid," Ms Lau said.

Dr Copeland examined the orchid's size, counted its flowers and petals and considered the location it was found in.

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While further testing is needed, Dr Copeland confirmed the hinterland orchid is an undiscovered species.

"In my book as a botanist, it's every bit as significant as finding a new animal," he said.

"Small plants, like tiny little orchids, are hard to spot and less known, but it's highly significant.

"It's quite a highly distinctive species, which is totally unknown to science until a few months ago."

The botanist, from Coffs Harbour, said only a few new orchid species were discovered in Australia each year.

"It's a tiny little thing," Dr Copeland said.

"It's in a group of greenhoods (Pterostylis alpina), which are quite small to start with, but it's possibly the smallest greenhood in that group.

"Ground orchids like that are long-lived perennials so it'll put up a shoot and flowers that are only visible for a short period of time."

Ms Lau planned to collect a full flower in March or April next year, which would be used for a full DNA analysis.

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Fungus enthusiast, Ms Philistin, said she and Ms Lau met randomly 12 months ago while hiking and their friendship had blossomed.

"I taught Jo to look down and Jo taught me to look up," she said.

"We've got such fabulous places on the Gold Coast to explore and there is so much to discover."

Ms Lau said their collaboration with Dr Copeland had resulted in a special discovery.

"It's great to find something, but to discover something takes a team because it is bigger than all of us," she said.

Research continues

Dr Copeland said further research including a survey of the area would be conducted.

"It's quite a rigorous process to name it properly," he said.

"It involves collecting a good full specimen of leaves, flowers and roots ... then writing a detailed scientific description."

The work will need to be published and possibly peer-reviewed by other botanists.

"It's quite a lengthy process that can take anywhere between six months and a couple of years," he said.

Meredith Philistin and Joanna Lau did not know what the orchid would eventually be named but they would like it to recognise the local Indigenous community.

"I would love to see a native orchid having an Indigenous name in the Yugambeh language," Ms Lau said.

"I would love to see a native orchid of Australia finally have an Indigenous name."


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