The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew ( RBG Kew), located in the U.K., has awarded the title of “ugliest orchid in the world” to Gastrodia agnicellus. And while the orchid, named after its home forest in Madagascar, quite likely deserves that title, it also serves as an important reminder: Things that are hard on the eyes can still be great for the nose.
CNN reported on the announcement of the ugly orchid, which RBG Kew made in a recent blog post. The title’s not certified by Guinness World Records or anything—how would it be, technically speaking?—but if you can find an uglier orchid, we’ll applaud you.
“It’s not very attractive, I must say—it’s fleshy looking, red inside and brown on the outside,” Johan Hermans, a researcher on orchids at RBG Kew, told CNN. Hermans and his colleagues originally found the orchid several years ago. At that point the orchid was only a seed pod, however, and it was only more recently that Hermans et al. have been able to study the full-grown flower.
Researchers describe agnicellus‘ flowers as “small” and “rather ugly,” and note the orchid has no leaves or other photosynthetic tissue. Instead, the orchid relies on nearby fungi for nutrition. As a result, the orchid looks like a tiny sandworm from Dune, but made out of pizza crust. (Look long enough and you’ll see it too.)
🍄🌿Despite 2020's challenges, botanical and mycological science has continued. This year 156 plant & fungal species were named by Kew scientists & our partners worldwide. From a not so pretty orchid to a Heathrow fungus, discover some of our favourites 👇 https://t.co/Nv6CaQ7U8e— Kew Science (@KewScience) December 17, 2020
Agnicellus does offer one sensorial surprise, however, and it’s a big one: the orchid smells fan-freakin’-tastic. Hermans told CNN that while he and his colleagues expected the orchid to smell like rotting flesh— some really do—Agnicellus actually has a “pleasant, citrusy, rose scent.”
And that fact, of course, begs the question: Would you rather have a bunch of beautiful, yet smelly, orchids in your house, or a bunch of ugly, yet aromatic ones? Because even the world’s most beautiful flower would put a damper on dinner if it smelled like rotting flesh, right? Seems like agnicellus could be the smell of the ball when it comes to orchids after all.
Feature image: Rick Burian