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10 of the Rarest Orchids in the World

10 of the Rarest Orchids in the World

Orchids are some of the most elegant and diverse flowers in the world. Here are 10 of the rarest orchids from around the globe!

Did you know that the orchid family (a.k.a. Orchidaceae) contains approximately 25,000 species? Or that many orchids remain critically endangered and are rarely found in nature? In fact, the rarest orchids in the world are protected by law and occupy fragile habitats.

Interested in learning more about some rare orchid species? Read on to discover the ten rarest members of the Orchidaceae family.

1. Western Underground Orchid

The Western Underground Orchid is so rare that scientists believe there are fewer than 50 plants in the world. Its habitat is the broom bush scrubland of Western Australia, and it spends its entire life below ground. It flowers from late May through early June, you guessed it, underground!

With more than a hundred reddish and cream-colored flowers, the orchid features a strong fragrance. Since the orchid can’t draw on energy from the sun, it contains no chlorophyll. Instead, it parasitizes the roots of the broom honey myrtle bush.

How? It draws nutrients from this shrub through a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungus.

Because of its subterranean existence, the orchid relies on termites and gnats to pollinate it. They are drawn to it by the flower’s strong fragrance.

2. Western Prairie Fringed Orchid

The Western Prairie Fringed Orchid only exists in five states in the American midwest. Only 172 populations of the species are left in the world, and of these, only four contain more than 1,000 plants.

A wetland plant, the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid flourishes in “prairie potholes.” Major threats to this plan include fires, overgrazing, and development.

3. Ghost Orchid

Native to Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas, the Ghost Orchid grows on the main branches of living trees. It tends to favor pond-apple trees. It blossoms between June and August, producing between one and 10 fragrant flowers that open one at a time.

Ghost Orchid flowers appear white. They are displayed on spikes rising out of the plant’s root network. The lower petal of each flower has two long, lateral tendrils giving the Ghost Orchid’s flowers their distinctive look.

Endangered in the wild, Ghost Orchids have also proven very tricky to cultivate in captivity. Almost all attempts at growing the plant have failed although a handful of botanists have found success.

4. Rothschild’s Orchid

Rothschild’s Orchid is also known as the Gold of Kinabalu Orchid. It is a large, clear-leafed member of the Orchidaceae family. When it blooms, it produces up to six vibrant, tiger-striped flowers.

It was originally discovered in Northern Borneo in the rainforests of Mount Kinabalu. The flower has green and red striped petals and is only found between the elevations of 1,640 and 4,000 feet above sea level.

5. Shenzhen Nongke Orchid

The Shenzhen Nongke Orchid is unlike any other flower on this list. How? It was engineered in a Chinese laboratory by agricultural scientists. In fact, its name comes from the Shenzhen Nongke University where the experiment took place.

It took eight years to craft the blossom, and it, in turn, requires four to five years to produce each flower. It remains a rare bloom that sells for upwards of $220,000 per flower.

6. Hawaii Bog Orchid

One of three species found in Hawaii, this fringed orchid only lives in bogs protected from wild pigs by fences. It features greenish-yellow flowers on erect skies complemented by pale green, egg-shaped leaves. Grown from a tuber, not much else is known about the plant including how it reproduces or its lifespan.

What are some of the biggest threats facing the Hawaii Bog Orchid? Apart from pigs, threats include cattle grazing, hurricanes, and invasive plant species. As of 2009, three populations of the plant remained numbering less than 50 total.

7. Coleman’s Coral Root

Only three populations of Coleman’s Coral Root exist. They are all located in the Sky Islands of Arizona.

Like the Western Underground Orchid, Coleman’s Coral Root spends much of its life below ground. As a result, it doesn’t use photosynthesis to generate fuel from the sun.

A symbiotic relationship with fungus allows it to colonize the roots of shrubs and trees. Because of this interdependent relationship, disturbances of the soil can kill whole colonies. For example, accidental trampling by hikers renders the plant incapable of reproducing.

Unlike the Western Underground Orchid, Coleman’s Coral Root flower above ground when optimal environmental conditions exist. Fewer than 200 of these flowers grow above ground at any given time.

These flowers represent the plant’s only means of reproduction. Threats to this flower include cattle grazing, humans who accidentally trample the fragile blooms, and mining activity.

8. Dragon’s Mouth

Dragon’s Mouth grows in the bogs, swamps, and wet lowlands of Eastern North America, from Manitoba to Virginia. It is a leafless orchid. It flowers in the spring producing a single bright pink blossom. This blossom features a pale pink labellum with a yellow center and magenta spots.

While Dragon’s Mouth is listed as globally secure, it remains threatened in North America. Although the flower puts off a lovely aroma, it offers little nectar to pollinators. As a result, it relies on inexperienced bees to pollinate it.

9. Hochstetter’s Butterfly Orchid

In 2013, scientists rediscovered an extremely rare species of butterfly orchid on the Azorean island of Sao Jorge. The Azores are a group of islands situated in the North Atlantic Ocean. Researchers believe the species is so rare that its habitat may be limited to one mountaintop forest.

Hochstetter’s Butterfly Orchid is one of three species of butterfly orchid native to the island. Its rediscovery has placed new emphasis on the need for better conservation efforts.

The unique orchid has dwindled to near extinction. The combined threats of agricultural expansion, deforestation, and non-native flowers have decimated local populations.

10. Sky-Blue Sun Orchid

The Sky-Blue Sun Orchid is critically endangered. These rare orchid plants have recorded populations in Tasmania, South Australia, and Victoria.

The Sky-Blue Sun orchids’ area of occupation is estimated at less than 0.01 km squared. The plant grows in two distinct locations, Mason Point and Pirates Road. But its numbers continue to dwindle.

At the turn of the 21st century, the plant’s total population was estimated at less than 60 individuals. The Pirates Road colony numbered 32 plants and the Mason Point population between 5 to 20 individuals. The main threat to the Sky-Blue Sun Orchid remains loss of habitat.

The Rarest Orchids in the World

The ten orchids listed above face threats from invasive species, development, and more. Most hover near extinction. Learning more about the rarest orchids in the world highlights the importance of conservation.

Some species, such as Coleman’s Coal Root and the Hawaii Bog Orchid, face virtual extinction. They remind us of how fragile Earth’s ecosystems truly are and why very rare orchids need to be protected.

Fascinated by rare orchids? Check out our blog to learn more about these fragile beauties. Or, contact us today with your orchid-related questions. From cultivation to maintenance, we’re here to help your plants bloom.