An international team of botanists has discovered three new endemic species of the orchid genus Lepanthes in the highlands of Ecuador.
Lepanthes is a large genus of orchids with up to 1,000 species distributed in the Neotropics.
The genus ranges from the Antilles and southern Mexico through the Andes south to Bolivia, with a few species known from Brazil.
The largest number of species is concentrated in the Andes of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, but an important number is also distributed in Costa Rica and Panama.
In Ecuador, Lepanthes includes about 350 species, of which 240 are considered endemic to the country.
Nevertheless, their richness is far from being fully inventoried, as new species are continuously being discovered and described as the country’s forests continue to be explored.
The three new species of Lepanthes were discovered by Dr. Francisco Tobar Suarez from the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad and his colleagues from Ecuador and Switzerland.
Named Lepanthes oro-lojaensis, Lepanthes microprosartima and Lepanthes caranqui, they were recorded in evergreen montane forest and páramo as part of three different research projects conducted during the last five years.
“Lepanthes oro-lojaensis was discovered in the southwest of El Oro province and is similar to Lepanthes jimburae, differing mainly in the much smaller plants, inflorescences and floral parts,” the researchers said.
“Lepanthes microprosartima from the western slopes of Pichincha volcano in northern Ecuador resembles Lepanthes obandoi but differs in the coloration of the leaves, the inflorescence that are shorter than the leaves and the smaller floral appendix.”
“Lepanthes caranqui, found in eastern Pichincha and Imbabura, is most similar to Lepanthes pachychila but differs from it in its much larger plants and different shape of the petals and the floral appendix.”
The scientists suggest that Lepanthes oro-lojaensis and Lepanthes microprosartima are Critically Endangered and that Lepanthes caranqui is Least Concern species following the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria.
“They are proof that Ecuador — one of the world’s megadiverse countries — hides much more biodiversity waiting to be explored,” the authors said.
Their paper was published in the journal PhytoKeys.
F.T. Suarez et al. 2021. Three new endemic species of Lepanthes (Orchidaceae, Pleurothallidinae) from the highlands of Ecuador. PhytoKeys 180: 111-132; doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.180.62671