Picture: Herbert Stärker
A new orchid species has been discovered in the Kogelberg mountains of the Cape Floristic Region.

Named Satyrium liltvedianum, the plant was discovered in November 2009 after a veld fire in the Kogelberg Mountains, showing maroon coloration of the stem, sheathing leaves and white flowers.

University of KwaZulu-Natal senior lecturer Dr Timotheus Van der Niet discovered the species while searching for orchids after the fire. After some genetic and chemical analyses, he has now descibed the species in the South African Journal of Botany.

The striking and unusual plant was found on a rocky southeast-facing slope in shallow peaty soil derived from Table Mountain Sandstone. There is only a single population in the Steenbras Catchment area of the Kogelberg Mountains.

Many inflorescences in the population had been removed, presumably chewed off by small antelope, Van der Niet said.

“Similar to several other orchids from the Cape Floristic Region(CFR), Satyrium liltvedianum is known only from a single localised population of about 50 individuals. The species is therefore considered highly vulnerable,” Van der Niet notes.

The species flowers in November, in the first and second years after fire. “This species is named in honour of William Rune Liltved who, over the past two decades, has made an invaluable contribution to recording the orchids of the Cape Floristic Region.

“This work culminated in publication of the book The Cape Orchids,” Van der Niet said.

In early 2009, a veld fire raged in the Kogelberg Mountains, one of the most species-rich areas of the CFR. Fires stimulate flowering of orchids and other geophytic plant species in the CFR.

The new plants superficially resembled several other species of Satyrium, but also differed in several aspects.

But DNA sequences from the nuclear and plastid genomes of an accession from the Kogelberg population showed they were highly distinct from other Satyrium species.

The new species is uniquely characterised by the size, shape and orientation of sepals and lateral petals.

“There are many reasons why efforts to discover and describe species should be ongoing.

“Only recognised taxa can be adequately conserved; the success of scientific research often depends on sound taxonomic classification.

“Much of Earth’s biotic diversity is currently highly threatened and many species are on the brink of extinction, or have recently gone extinct which provides a great sense of urgency to taxonomic enterprise,” Van der Niet said.