When scientists brought the Bulbophyllum nocturnum back to the Netherlands, they were perplexed. They had found the plant on the island of New Britain, near Papua New Guinea. They knew the plant came from a rare group, but the orchid's blooms would die before opening up. At least that's what the scientists thought.
The orchid's uniqueness never became clear until one scientist brought it home with him. Here's how MSNBC tells the story:
"[Dutch researcher Ed de Vogel] took a plant home with him one evening. Two hours before midnight, a bud began to open, revealing an exotic bloom as yet unknown to science.
"Subsequent observations revealed that the other orchids bloomed at 10 p.m. and, the next morning, about 12 hours later, the flowers withered and died.
"Other plant species bloom at night — the aptly named corpse flower, whose massive bloom stinks of rotting flesh, typically begins its malodorous display around midnight. Yet once opened, the plant stays that way for about a day."
The Bulbophyllum nocturnum is now the first orchid known to bloom at night. The findings appear in the latest issue of Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.
Of course the big question is why? As Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew explains in its press release, the reason is not known but, "it may be speculated that its pollinators are midges that forage at night."