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Classification System: APG IV

Superregnum: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Cladus: Angiosperms
Cladus: Monocots
Ordo: Asparagales

Familia: Orchidaceae
Subfamilia: Orchidoideae
Tribus: Diurideae
Subtribus: Rhizanthellinae
Genus: Rhizanthella
Overview of species (4)

R. gardneri – R. johnstonii – R. omissa – R. slateri
New species 2020:

R. speciosa

Rhizanthella R.S.Rogers, J. Roy. Soc. Western Australia 15: 1 (1928)

Type species: Rhizanthella gardneri R.S.Rogers, J. Roy. Soc. Western Australia 15: 1 (1928)


Cryptanthemis Rupp, Proc. Linn. Soc. New South Wales 57: 58 (1932)

Native distribution areas:

New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia.

References: Brummitt, R.K. 2001. TDWG – World Geographical Scheme for Recording Plant Distributions, 2nd Edition

Primary references

Rogers, R.S. 1928. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 15: 1.
Pridgeon, A.M., Cribb, P.J., Chase, M.W. & Rasmussen, F.N. (eds.) 2001. Genera Orchidacearum Volume 2: Orchidoideae (Part one); page 193 ff., Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-850710-0


Global Biodiversity Information Facility. 2021. GBIF Backbone Taxonomy. Checklist dataset. Taxon: Rhizanthella. Accessed: 2021 Jul 9.
Govaerts, R. et al. 2021. Rhizanthella in Kew Science Plants of the World online. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the internet. Accessed: 2021 Jul 9. Reference page.
Govaerts, R. et al. 2021. Rhizanthella in World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the internet. Accessed: 2021 Jul 9. Reference page.
Hassler, M. 2021. Rhizanthella. World Plants: Synonymic Checklists of the Vascular Plants of the World In: Roskovh, Y., Abucay, L., Orrell, T., Nicolson, D., Bailly, N., Kirk, P., Bourgoin, T., DeWalt, R.E., Decock, W., De Wever, A., Nieukerken, E. van, Zarucchi, J. & Penev, L., eds. 2021. Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life. Published on the internet. Accessed: 2021 Jul 9. Reference page.
International Plant Names Index. 2021. Rhizanthella. Published online. Accessed: 9 Jul 2021.
Tropicos.org 2021. Rhizanthella. Missouri Botanical Garden. Published on the internet. Accessed: 2021 Jul 9.

Vernacular names

English: Underground orchids
suomi: Mantukämmekät
日本語: リザンテラ属
한국어: 지하란속
перем коми: Ризантелла
коми: Ризантелла
кырык мары: Ризантелла
русский: Ризантелла
удмурт: Ризантелла

Rhizanthella, commonly known as underground orchids,[3] is a genus of flowering plants in the orchid family, Orchidaceae and is endemic to Australia. All are leafless, living underground in symbiosis with mycorrhizal fungi. The inflorescence is a head of flowers held at, or just above the ground but mostly covered by soil or leaf litter and little is known about the mechanism of pollination.


Orchids in the genus Rhizanthella are mostly underground, perennial, sympodial, mycotrophic herbs with fleshy underground stems which produce new shoots at nodes where there are colourless leaf-like cataphylls. There are no roots and new tubers form at the end of short stems. The leaves are reduced to scale-like structures lacking chlorophyll, pressed against and sheathing the stems.[3][4][5][6]

The inflorescence is a head containing many flowers and is held at, or just above ground level but the head is usually covered with leaf litter or soil. The head is surrounded by a large number of overlapping bracts and each flower has an erect, elongated bract at its base. The flowers are non-resupinate, arranged in a spiral, inward-facing, dull coloured and lack a stalk. The sepals and petals form a short, curved hood over the labellum and column, open on one side. The lateral sepals are joined to each other and to the dorsal sepal at their bases. The petals are joined at their bases to the column and are shorter than the sepals. The labellum is different in size, shape and colouration from the other petals and sepals, is thick, fleshy and has no nectar. The column is short with short wings. Flowering time depends on species and is followed by the fruit which is a berry that does not split open (indehiscent) and which contains 50 to 100 seeds.[3][4][5][6]

Underground orchids do not possess chloroplasts but they retain plastid genes, although R. gardneri possesses the smallest organelle genome yet described in land plants.[7]
Taxonomy and naming

The first formal description of an underground orchid was by Richard Sanders Rogers who published his description of R. gardneri in the Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia in 1928.[8][9] The name "Rhizanthella" is a diminutive of Rhizanthes, a parasitic plant in the Family Rafflesiaceae.[10] The name "Rhizanthes" is derived from the Ancient Greek words rhiza meaning "root"[11]: 666  and anthos meaning "flower".[11]: 338 
Species list

Four species are recognised by the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families and a fifth species has been formally described, but not as yet accepted by other authorities:

Rhizanthella gardneri R.S.Rogers[12] – western underground orchid (W.A.)
Rhizanthella johnstonii K.W.Dixon & Christenh.[13] – south coast underground orchid (W.A.)
Rhizanthella omissa D.L.Jones & M.A.Clem.[14] (Qld.)
Rhizanthella slateri (Rupp) M.A.Clem. & P.J.Cribb[15] – eastern Australian underground orchid (N.S.W.)

In 2020, a fifth species, Rhizanthella speciosa, found in New South Wales, was described by Mark Clements and David Jones in the journal Lankesteriana but as at September 2020, the name has not been accepted by the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families.[16]

Distribution and habitat

Rhizanthella gardneri occurs in the south-west of Western Australia where it grows in association with broombush (Melaleuca uncinata).[3] R. johnstonii, also from WA, was split from R. gardneri in 2018.[17][18] Rhizanthella omissa has only been collected once, at an elevation of 1,200 m (4,000 ft) in the Lamington National Park in Queensland.[19] Rhizanthella slateri, formerly known as Cryptanthemis slateri, occurs in the Blue Mountains and similar ranges in New South Wales where it grows in sclerophyll forest.[6] R. speciosa was discovered in 2016 in wet sclerophyll forest in Barrington Tops, which contrasts with the more-open dry forest habitat of R. slateri.[18]

The pollination mechanism of Rhizanthella is not known. A single specimen of a small fly from the genus Megaselia, some small wasps and termites are the only observations of insects carrying pollinia of Rhizanthella.[4]


"Rhizanthella". Kew Science - Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
"Rhizanthella". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSP). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
Hoffman, Noel; Brown, Andrew (2011). Orchids of South-West Australia (3rd ed.). Gooseberry Hill: Noel Hoffman. pp. 386–389. ISBN 9780646562322.
Pridgeon (ed.), Alec M.; Cribb (ed.), Phillip J.; Chase (ed.), Mark W.; Rasmussen (ed.), Finn (2001). Genera Orchidacearum, Volume 2, Orchidoideae (part 1). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. pp. 186–193. ISBN 0198507100.
"Rhizanthella". FloraBase. Western Australian Government Department of Parks and Wildlife.
Weston, Peter H. "Genus Rhizanthella". Royal Botanic Garden Sydney: plantnet. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
Delannoy, Etienne; Fujii, Sota; Colas des Francs-Small, Catherine; Brundrett, Mark; Small, Ian (2 February 2011). "Rampant Gene Loss in the Underground Orchid Rhizanthella gardneri Highlights Evolutionary Constraints on Plastid Genomes". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 28 (7): 2077–2086. doi:10.1093/molbev/msr028. PMC 3112369. PMID 21289370.
"Rhizanthella gardneri". APNI. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
Rogers, Richard Sanders (1928). "A New Genus of Australian Orchid". Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia. 15 (1): 1. Retrieved 26 September 2020.
Quattrocchi, Umberto (2000). R - Z. Boca Raton, FL: CRC World Dictionary of Pant Names (R-Z). p. 2296. ISBN 0849326788.
Brown, Roland Wilbur (1956). The Composition of Scientific Words. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
"Rhizanthella gardneri". Kew Science - Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
"Rhizanthella johnstonii". Kew Science - Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
"Rhizanthella omissa". Kew Science - Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
"Rhizanthella slateri". Kew Science - Plants of the World Online. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
"Rhizanthella speciosa". APNI. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
Dixon, Kingsley W.; Christenhusz, Maarten J. M. (2018-01-12). "Flowering in darkness: a new species of subterranean orchid Rhizanthella (Orchidaceae; Orchidoideae; Diurideae) from Western Australia". Phytotaxa. 334 (1): 75–79. doi:10.11646/phytotaxa.334.1.12. ISSN 1179-3163.
Clements, Mark A.; Jones, David L. (2020-07-30). "Notes on Australasian Orchids 6: A new species of Rhizanthella (Diurideae, subtribe Prasophyllinae) from Eastern Australia". Lankesteriana: 221–227–221–227. doi:10.15517/lank.v20i2.43271. ISSN 2215-2067.

"Rhizanthella omissa". Internet Orchid Species Photo Encyclopedia. Retrieved 20 July 2016.

Further reading
Jones, David L. (2006). A complete guide to native orchids of Australia: including the island territories. Frenchs Forest. ISBN 1-877069-12-4.
Underground orchid - Rhizanthella gardneri at ARKive.org (includes photographs)

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