Japanese orchid considered impossible to cultivate pops up in woods of Longwood gardens

Molly Daly
January 13, 2019 - 3:07 pm
Longwood Gardens discovered a rare, non-native plant in a wooded area that's not open to the public, called Cyrtosia Septentrionalis, a native of Japan.

Courtesy of Longwood Gardens

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CHESTER COUNTY, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — The plant experts at Longwood Gardens have a mystery on their hands. Last July, they discovered a rare, non-native plant in a wooded area that's not open to the public. 

Peter Zale, associate director of conservation, plant breeding, and collections at Longwood Gardens, says the library services director spotted the plant's eye-catching fruit glowing like small, red bananas. 

"Cyrtosia Septentrionalis, which is a native of Japan, growing in a woodlot right behind our production greenhouses," he said.  

Which is pretty remarkable, because it'd never been found in the U.S., and in Japan, the orchid's considered impossible to cultivate. 

So how'd this plant get there? Zale says he and his colleagues have a theory.

"In the late 1970s, perhaps early 1980s, there was a very active period when plants were being brought here from Japan," he explained.  

Longwood Gardens discovered a rare, non-native plant in a wooded area that's not open to the public, called Cyrtosia Septentrionalis, a native of Japan.
Courtesy of Longwood Gardens

The orchid's tiny seeds may have hitchhiked in another plant's rootmass and found a foothold in the woods. They ended up finding at least a dozen plants believed to have been there for several years. As exciting as the find might be, the orchid's success raises concerns about its invasive potential.

"In the case that this orchid starts moving around a little bit more, and shows up in other areas, we'll think very hard about managing it, or even eradicating it," Zale said. 

But for now, they're left to marvel at the discovery.

"It's really remarkable. We've talked to experts in this particular group of orchids and others, and they're all just totally flabbergasted by the presence of this orchid in our woods," he added.