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Dec 10, 2013 01:15 PM EST

Europe's Rarest Orchid Rediscovered and Officially Recognized Nearly 200 Years After Discovery

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Hochstetter's Butterfly Orchid
Hochstetter's Butterfly Orchid, Europe's rarest orchid.
(Photo : Richard Bateman)

Scientists believe they have rediscovered Europe's rarest species of orchid, which had gone nearly 200 years without being spotted, on a volcanic ridge in the Azores.

The species, Hochstetter's butterfly orchid, was first discovered in 1838 and has eluded official recognition since, BBC News reported. Europe is home to more than 300 species of orchids, one of the most diverse families of flower plants.

"Like many evolutionary biologists before me, I decided that an island system would be much simpler and would therefore yield less ambiguous results," said lead researcher Richard Bateman, of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

The researchers published their work in the journal PeerJ. Bateman and his research team took samples for microscopy and DNA analysis from hundreds of populations on the islands. The research team's leader said he expected to find at least two species.

"[I] was astonished when our field expeditions revealed the existence of a third - and exceptionally rare - species, growing in such a dramatic, primeval landscape," Bateman said. "I was even more astonished when my subsequent studies in herbaria and libraries showed that this exceptionally rare orchid, found only on one mountain-top on a single Azorean island, had in fact been found by the very first serious botanist to visit the Azores, in 1838."

Bateman said the next step for his research team will be conservation efforts to preserve the extremely rare orchid. Despite being found nearly two centuries ago, it has not been officially identified until now.

"This remarkable species languished unrecognized for 173 years," Bateman said in a press release. "It's rediscovery and recognition beautifully illustrate the value of integrating field-based and laboratory-based approaches to generate a modern monograph. This methodology both demonstrates that the species is genuine and allows us to make informed recommendations for its future conservation."

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