Field of Science

Orchid pollination and fungus mimicry

Orchids are a fantastically diverse family of flowering plants that employ many fascinating and equally diverse pollination biologies. Animals used as pollen vectors don't pollinate flowers because they like them or anything like that; they visit flowers because they get a reward or they have been fooled, tricked. Some orchid flowers mimic female insects and get males to visit the flower and transfer pollen while attempting to mate with the flower (pseudocopulation). My old friend Peter Bernhardt (He shares an undergrad alma mater with the Phactor.) is among a group of botanists who very recently described a very unique mimicry involving a ladyslipper orchid (Cypripedium) native to China. The leaf spots look like a fungal infection and the flower produces fungusy odors thus attracting a fungus-feeding fly to transfer pollen, a whole new mimicry for a whole new group of pollinators . This is a great looking little orchid (scale bar = 2 cm). Is that cool or what!

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