Friday, February 27, 2009

Darwin's Orchid

I believe that there are times when the greatest fulfillment comes from letting tangents and coincidence guide one's attention. Well, coincident with the attention given to Darwin's two-hundredth birthday, my wife's specimen of Darwin's Orchid decided to bloom, and so it cried out for a snapshot today.

This genus is native to Madagascar. It has an elongated nectary - up to a foot long - extending from the back of the flower. Nectar is contained in the tip of the nectary. Darwin reasoned that there must be some species of moth with a proboscis long enough to reach the length of the nectary, but this hypothesis was ridiculed by others in his day.

The idea that such a long-tongued moth would have evolved is no longer considered ridiculous. Such a moth was indeed discovered years later.

This fascinating video from a Nature episode shows the moth in action with Darwin's Orchid:



herhimnbryn said...

Thankyou for this. Amazing. Now have you such a moth to hand for your orchid?:)

dw said...

You're welcome! Alas, we have no moth for our orchid. Our orchid therefore will not produce offspring, at least not without in vitro fertilization.

Believe it or not, our orchid's flower actually grows upside down. We think that this is because we cannot accurately reproduce the type of light that it would get in it's natural environment. It gets light from our "gro-lights," which keep it healthy. But to produce a normally formed flower it probably needs a moving light source and a tree canopy to filter the light.

Since the flower is upside down, we fear that it would probably stump any moth that might try feeding from it anyway!

Brian Miller said...

love the opening line, amazingly true.