Maree Elliott admitted feeling a bit despondent as she poked around the leaf litter in the Barrington Tops National Park north of Newcastle four years ago.
Ms Elliott, a scientific illustrator, had been looking for a native fungi to draw for her work, but despite hours of searching the 65-year-old retiree was having no luck.
What she stumbled on instead would rewrite scientific literature.
"I got a big stick and I was playing around with the leaf litter, and this lovely pink thing surfaced," she said.
"I didn't know what it was, it certainly wasn't a mushroom or a truffle. It was just a very small, pinky-creamy thing, it was like a half-opened flower bud."
Ms Elliott said an ecologist in her party "got all excited", and immediately identified her unusual find as a form of underground orchid — an extremely rare plant that never naturally pokes its head up above the leaf litter.
"I had no idea what it was, it wasn't until I came home and started doing my own research that I realised that this was an important find," Ms Elliott said.