Monday, April 05, 2004

A Liar and a Cheat
In the botanical world, orchids are famed not only for their great beauty, but also for their powers of deceit, well established as the liars and cheats of the plant kingdom, making false promises of food, drink and even sex to the bees and other pollinators flying by.

Many orchids have a sweetly alluring fragrance but not a drop of the expected nectar. Others look and smell just like female bees, attracting male bees that try hopelessly to mate with the blossom.

Yet for more than a century, scientists have been unable to figure out why these species have evolved to be so unpleasant and unwelcoming to pollinators.

Now scientists report that the reason orchids treat their insect visitors so shabbily is that they want them to fly away.

A team from South Africa and Sweden says that once an insect visits an orchid flower and picks up a packet of pollen, the ideal outcome from an orchid's point of view is that the insect flies away and fertilizes other plants.

If the bee hangs about, visiting other flowers on the same plant, it will fertilize the plant with its own pollen, producing defective, inbred seeds that are unlikely to sprout into healthy offspring.
Ah, and even orchids know that inbreeding isn't such a good idea. No doubt a result of Intelligent Design rather than any evolutionary adaptation.[joke]


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