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A hunt for fungi might bring this orchid back from the brink

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If you ever come across a Cooper’s black orchid in the wild, you probably would mistake it for a stick — or perhaps an odd potato if you dig a little underneath it. Unlike many others of its kind, this delicate flower is devoid of lush green leaves and flashy petals. Its stem lies on the floor of New Zealand’s broadleaf forests for most of the year, only popping up during the summer months to blossom with pendulous brown and white blooms. And rather than growing a tangle of roots, the orchid sprouts a pale brown tuber.

But the chances of encountering a Cooper’s black orchid (Gastrodia cooperae) are getting slimmer. Fewer than 250 adult plants have been found since botanist Carlos Lehnebach identified the species in 2016, and they live in only three sites across New Zealand. To make matters worse, feral pigs, rabbits and other animals like to nosh on the tubers. And the forests where the orchid grows are being cleared for farmland (SN: 12/21/20). In 2018, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation  classified the orchid as nationally critical, emphasizing its…



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