• Researchers named the new Vanilla orchid for its "uncommon" habit of growing on rocks
  • The flowers release a lovely smell at the hottest hours of the day
  • Researchers have classified it as "endangered"

Researchers have discovered a lovely new vanilla orchid species. It's unusual and fragrant and maybe the "most beautiful" vanilla orchid in the region.

Some may be surprised to know the vanilla that we know actually comes from the seed pods of orchids of the genus Vanilla. Yes, those beautiful flowers adored by many also produce the spice known for its flavor and scent.

"Vanilla is also the most economically important genus among the orchids since the fruits of the Neotropical V. planifolia Andrews and their relatives are a source of vanillin flavor," researchers wrote in the study describing the newly discovered vanilla orchid species. It was published in PhytoKeys on June 8. "However, there is still much to know since new species have been found and described, notably in the Brazilian flora."

The team found the new vanilla orchid species in the Brazilian Campos Rupestres of the Espinhaço Range. Campos rupestres are habitats that are characterized by infertile landscapes and high endemism (an area that has species that can't be found anywhere else). The place where the new orchid was found is among "the most hostile environments in the Brazilian Cerrado," explained Pensoft Publishers.

But one look at the orchid and one may not even think of the hostility of its habitat. Just like other orchids, the new species is just as dainty and delicate in appearance. Pensoft Publishers described it as "one of the most beautiful vanilla orchid species in the Neotropical region."

Photos of the species are available on the journal's website.

Although it somewhat resembles other species, it differs from them in its stem, the rounded shape of its leaves and the smaller size of the flowers. Its flowers are said to last for about 12 hours and they produce a fragrant smell at the hottest hours of the day.

Researchers named it Vanilla rupicola because of its "rupicolous" habit of growing on rocks, something that is rather "uncommon" among Neotropical Vanilla.

The new species is rare, with only about 250 plants recorded in the area, researchers said. They have classified it as "endangered."

"Here, an endemic Vanilla from the ERMG (Espinhaço Range of Minas Gerais) is reported for the first time. This is not surprising because Brazil, with more than 38 species, is the center of diversification for Neotropical Vanilla," the researchers wrote. "Therefore, knowledge about the taxonomy and phylogeny of Brazilian Vanilla is fundamental in order to understand the evolution and natural history of this Pantropical orchid genus."

The magic of an orchid comes in the flower's quiet beauty. Reuters