The ‘Ugliest Orchid in the World’ Doesn’t Need Your Approval

Gastrodia agnicellus, the newly-discovered orchid.
We’re proud of her. Photo: Rick Burian

Imagine if, upon being introduced to a new community, you were not simply described as “ugly,” you were called “the ugliest” of your kind. Now, hold onto that feeling as you get to know a brand-new flower found deep in the forests of Madagascar, which has already been labeled “the ugliest orchid in the world.”

Let us get this out of the way: The new orchid, discovered by researchers with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, doesn’t exactly resemble her stunning brethren. Rather than producing distinct, delicate petals in vibrant shades of magenta and purple, this orchard grows what looks like a brown, fleshy maw; her body never bears leaves. In an interview with CNN, Johan Hermans, one of the researchers who discovered the flower, stated that he doesn’t find the flower to be “very attractive.” Still, Hermans told the New Scientist, “I’m sure its mother thinks it’s very lovely.”

Well, okay. Perhaps this flower is not what society might describe as a looker. But what of her other qualities — everything else she brings to her ecosystem? As Hermans himself admitted, “This orchid’s got an amazing life cycle”: It spends most of its life underground, sprouting only to bear fruit and spit its seeds on the forest floor; it also relies on fungus its entire life to stay alive, unlike many other orchids. And contrary to what the researchers rudely assumed, based on her appearance, smells “pleasant” and “citrusy” — not like rotting flesh.

Yet she’s introduced to the world as the ugliest of her family? As if she needs the world’s approval. Justice for this unappreciated flower, who we support and love.

The ‘Ugliest Orchid in the World’ Doesn’t Need Your Approval