The strangest bouquet you’ll EVER come across

When I started telling people I had an interest in plants, I copped some strange looks. And I get it; to the untrained eye, plants just seem like sessile, green things that breath in what we breath out. But it is my personal mission today to convince you otherwise. Plants are super cool! Their strategies of survival and reproduction can be absolutely insane, manipulative and worthy of some recognition.

Let’s make this interesting: You are about to witness the weirdest and most wonderful plants battle it out for the title of coolest plant ever! So, let’s get ready to ruummmmbbbblllee!!

Corpse Lily (Rafflesia arnoldii)

The parasitic and odorous Corpse Flower in bloom. Photo credit: Henrik Ishihara via Wikimedia Commons

Fighting out of the red corner, this plant has the largest single flower in the world, it’s a freeloading parasite, and stinks like a dead carcass. It’s… the Stinking Corpse Lily!

This botanic anomaly is not your typical angiosperm (flowering plant). They have no stem, roots or leaves. “But how do they survive without these important structures?” I hear you ask. Well, as I mentioned earlier, this plant is parasitic; it grows thread-like projections into the cells of its host plant and sucks out valuable water and nutrients.

This big fella also reeks of putrefying flesh! How lovely! This is because the primary pollinators for this species are Carrion flies, which are attracted by the smell of dead animal, as they feed and breed on this substrate.

In summary, it manipulates flies into pollinating it, it steals nutrients off other plants, and stinks like a rotting carcass… what’s not to love?

Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula)

An open Venus Fly Trap, presenting its sensory trichome “trigger” hairs within its jaws. Photo credit: Noah Elhardt via Wikimedia Commons

This mean, green, meat-eating machine is well known amongst the public for being a pretty awesome plant. I mean, it’s a PLANT that eats ANIMALS! That’s pretty hardcore!

Food was the driving force for the evolution of such a wacky plant. In the historic swampy bogs around the equator, soil nutrients was very lacking. How could anything survive there? Well, these plants had to adapt to their inhospitable environment if they wanted to survive! So they did, adopting a carnivorous diet, and here’s how it works:

Firstly, animals are drawn in by the delicious scent of nectar made by the plant, leading the insect (or even small frog) right into their jaws. Then, triggered by mechanical stimulation (detected by small sensory hairs called trichomes), the jaws close shut! Their tooth-like projections along the sides of their jaws are called cilia, which fold together to keep larger insects trapped. The animal is then digested via enzymes, and the plant is able to absorb nitrogen and other nutrients from the broken-down animal.

Hammer orchid (Drakaea sp.)

The labellum (lip) of the Hammer Orchid, awaiting a male thynnine wasp pollinator. Photo credit: Jean and Fred via Flickr

Native to Australia, members of this endangered orchid genus have to be my personal favourite plants, simply because of their ingenious design and devious reproductive strategy.

The sole pollinator of these orchids is the thynnine wasp, and these plants have a very cheeky method of attracting these insects and tricking them into pollinating them:

Firstly, the orchids have a modified petal known as the labellum (lip), which has evolved to imitate the shape of a female thynnine wasp, which is attached to the rest of the flower by a thin hinge. In addition, they produce a chemical signal that smells much like a particularly attractive female to a male wasp. These chemical and visual cues are enough to trick the males into thinking that the petal is a wingless female, who has climbed to the top of a stem to find a mate. It drives the boys crazy!

The typical mating practise for these insects is for the winged male to pick up a female from on top of these stems, and to mate mid-air. HOWEVER, when males attempt to mate with the orchid mimic, it can’t take off with the ‘fake wasp’. Instead, the hinge that connects the petal to the rest of the flower causes the wasp to be thrusted forward, by his own force, into the stigma (the male reproductive part of the flower which carries the pollen). This leaves the wasp disappointed from mating failure and covered in pollen, and he moves on, either to a true female or to be tricked by another devious orchid.

Think this is too weird to possibly be true? Take it from our beloved naturalist, Sir David Attenborough.

Have I convinced you?

I hope now, if you didn’t already, you can see that there are so many incredible plants out there! And it’s not just the bizarre species that are worth celebrating- every plant out there is providing us with air to breath, removing carbon emissions from our atmosphere, and providing countless other ecosystem services for us. Let’s give them some credit!

So, who was the winner in your eyes? Or do you have a personal favourite of your own? Let me know in the comments! You may even earn yourself a gorgeous bouquet of Corpse Lilies! Who wouldn’t love that?

 


2 Responses to “The strangest bouquet you’ll EVER come across”

  1. Kelley Leech says:

    Thanks for reading Daniel, glad you enjoyed my post. Plants are amazing! I’ll have to add the quaking aspen to the list of competitors; could give the others a run for their money! Thanks for your contribution.

  2. Daniel Hutchinson says:

    Ok you’ve convinced me, plants are pretty cool.
    Great post Kelley and I really liked how you turned it into a tournament for the awesome title of coolest plant ever.
    I feel like the quaking aspen could be another strong contender for the title