Rediscovered plant species: Telipogon jucusbambae

What is it? Telipogon jucusbambae, a rediscovered species in the orchid family.

Where was it found? It’s endemic to northern and central Peru in South America, where it grows in Andean cloud forests. Local people call the plant ushun.

And it’s been rediscovered? Yes. A type specimen was collected in 1965 by researchers from the University of Cambridge and kept in the herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. This was the only known specimen until the species was rediscovered by Marcos Salas from Leymebamba, Peru, and identified by Carlos Martel at the University of Ulm, Germany.

Telipogon jucusbambae in the Kew herbarium
Telipogon jucusbambae herbarium specimen collected in 1965 and held at the herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

What is its conservation status? The authors recommend classifying the species as endangered, having found populations in five localities.

What does it look like?T jucusbambae has dark violet flowers, and its lip (front lower petal) contains a black callus-like structure. The plants grow to around 35cm in height and are epiphytic.

Telipogon jucusbambae appearance. A a T jucusbambae plant with an open flower (right branch) and unopened buds (left branch); B a T jucusbambae flower, showing its dark violet petals; C a closeup of the lip of the flower, which is a black callus-like structure; and D an expanded view of the column, which contains the reproductive organs. Image from Check List.

Epiphytic? Some plants, including many orchids and bromeliads, grow on other plants (such as trees) and gather their nutrients and water from the humid air around them and from rain and debris on their host plant. Such plants are known as epiphytes.

Telipogon jucusbambae growing epiphytically on a tree in a northern Peruvian cloud forest (A) and a closeup view of its flowers (B). Image from Check List.

What kind of habitat does it like? It grows on trees in humid cloud forests around 2800-3300m above sea level.

What pollinates the flowers The flowers are pollinated by male tachina flies. Other members of the genus are known to mimic female flies so that male flies attempt to mate with the lip of the flower. In doing so, they collect pollen and transfer it to the next flower they attempt to ‘mate’ with. This is called sexual mimicry. It’s not clear whether this is the case in T jucusbambae.

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