In Australia, there is an orchid (Rhizanthella gardneri) which grows entirely underground. It was discovered in 1928 by a farmer after he noticed a sweet smell coming from the ground. The discovery generated so much excitement that a wax model was toured around the British Isles.
For much of its life, an underground orchid exists in the soil as a small white rhizome (thickened underground stem). When it flowers, it remains hidden under leaf litter and soil close to the surface, its petals think and pink, its flower head a little larger than an Australian 50 cent coin.
All orchid species need a buddy, a particular soil fungus, for their seeds to germinate, and Rhizanthella must have its habitat to survive. Unfortunately, it's extremely difficult to just grow it in a pot.
The seeds of underground orchids, are like ball bearings and the fruits smell like the famous vanilla orchid of Mexico, whose seeds and pods add scent and flavour to everything from candles to ice cream. It is suspected the seeds of underground orchids via native animal excrement. In Western Australia, these animals are locally extinct. Without bandicoots and wallabies to transport seeds away from the parent plant, the natural cycle of renewal and establishment of new plants has been broken. Not good for the long-term survival of the two Western Australian Rhizanthella species.
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