Thursday, May 31, 2007

Cypripediums... Clever Or Cruel?

Cypripedium kentuckiense, with its large, white bowl and maroon petals and sepal, is the last native ladyslipper orchid to bloom in our garden. Its lovely flower is not just there for our enjoyment, though; it is instead a cleverly constructed bee trap... maybe a little too clever. Insects are attracted to land on the lip of the bowl, where they are enticed by a nectar aroma to crawl down into the opening; once there it is very difficult for them to get back out due to the outpouched bowl shape, and the lip extending around its edge. Instead, they must climb back up into the back of the flower, where there are little ridges like steps leading up to a small escape opening on each side of the flower. However, as they struggle out through this small opening they must squeeze past the sticky stigma and the anthers, where pollen they may have collected from a previous flower is removed, and a dusting of new pollen is applied to them.
Clever yes, but probably unpleasant for the insect; instead of just slurping up a bucket of nectar while being pleasantly dusted by aromatic pollen as in most flowers, the ladyslipper traps the little bee, forces it to crawl up through a narrow escape route to squeeze out to safety, while being gooed up... for all of this, apparently the orchid doesn't even give the bee a meal. Perhaps this is part of the reason ladyslipper orchids are so rare in nature; bees aren't the brightest little creatures in the world, but they don't like being tricked.
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No payoff for the bees? Now that's just mean! It makes you wonder why.
I think it's kind of cool on the flower's some cruel funhouse being run by a wicked clown (I don't like clowns-they're all wicked to me)...what a devious little flower! I knew I liked them for more than just their looks!
Love the orchid shot. I grew orchid (cattleyas, brassos, Phaleanopsis, and cymbidiums) commercial for 12 years and have always loved orchids. I think it amazing how these plants have evolved to attract all sorts of insects (bees, mothes, wasps, beetles) to do their pollunating. Nature is really incredable.
all the best,

p.s. a little trivial fact---the orchid family is the largest plant in the world.
Who would of thought!.
Sorry forgot a word. I wanted to say, that the orchid family is the largest plant family in the world.

As usuall my fingers can't move as fast as my mind does.

BOB :)
Bob... I think the bucket orchids of South America are just wildly fascinating in how they trap bees.
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