Research

18 Aug 2020
  • Research Result

Endangered Japanese Orchid Found Inhabiting Northern Kyoto

A new orchid species is discovered in Kyoto University forest

Japan -- A serendipitous discovery in Kyoto University’s Ashiu Forest Research Station, a wide natural forest protected from humans, resulted in a multi-institute project led by Kyoto University researchers that reports a new endangered orchid species, previously not known to exist in the northern Kinki region.

The research station is situated in the northeastern border of Kyoto Prefecture, stretching over 4000 hectares, half of which has been preserved for research and education purposes for nearly 100 years.

In July 2019, Kyoto University's Shota Sakaguchi, accidentally discovered a new type of Liparis, an orchid family that blooms on trees. The orchid had several unusual qualities: unfamiliar flower shape, being epiphytic rather than terrestrial, and its blooming season was inherently different.

These features convinced the scientists that it may be a previously uncategorized spices for this forest. After anatomical and genetic analyses, the team found that it was a rare and endangered species of orchid, Liparis fujisanensis.

Liparis fujisanensis is a small-sized orchid that grows on the surface of beech and maple trees. Indigenous to Japan, the orchid is known to be distributed only in virgin and cool-temperature forests, from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south. It has become scarce nationwide due to massive deforestation and is considered endangered.

The researchers assume that, in addition to the small size of the plant, regional and historical factors account for the rarity: most mountains in the region are not high enough for the orchid’s host trees to grow, and the region has experienced a long history of human invasion.

Overall, the study suggests that virgin forests in the field site have exceptional value in preserving biodiversity and provides a natural sanctuary for endangered species like these.

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A flowering Liparis fujisanensis found in the Ashiu Research Forest (Kyoto University)