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Orchids the Ultimate Tricksters: Attracting Pollinators

The Loki among plants

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ladyslipper orchid pollinator

Orchids are highly specialized, especially when it comes to pollination.  They are masters of deception when it comes to doing whatever it takes to secure the survival of their species. 

The more I learn about orchids the more fascinating they become. When Charles Darwin wrote about the survival of the fittest, he could have been describing orchids. These plants use every trick in the book to perpetuate their species. I would love for you to comment below to share other methods these plants employ.

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The lip on a lady’s slipper, the Paphiopedilum, acts as both an attractor and then as landing pad for the pollinator.  There are also little hairs that point downward, guiding insects down the lip and into the flower where the pollen packets are waiting.

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I’m Not a Flower, I’m a…

The grocery store orchid, phalaenopsis, is also nicknamed the moth orchid.  So called because when a breeze comes up it flutters imitating a moth.  When a moth comes to investigate, it unwittingly receives the gift of a pollen packet from the orchid and carries the packet to another orchid, completing the pollination process.

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The bee orchid actually looks like its pollinator.  Different bee orchids, ophrys,  looks like different bees depending on which bee is its pollinator.  Amazing!  And, the orchid even emits pheromones that the bees use to attract mates.

The house-happy spider orchid, Brassia, looks like a giant spider, whose floral fragrance will fill a room.  The female spider-hunter wasp stings the orchid flower’s lip while unsuccessfully trying to grasp its “prey.”  Instead of a spider the wasp ends up with a pollen packet that she delivers to another brassia orchid.   Once I  stepped on a brassia flower that that fallen to the ground and when I looked down I let out a little squeak. I thought for a second that it actually was a spider. On second glance, I was relieved to see that it was just a dropped flower.

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There is one orchid that I do not recommend.  The Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis  has odd looking flowers that mimic the look of rotting flesh, complete with maggots, with an authentic putrid odor that lures its fly pollinator.  Yuck!  (Not to worry, other orchids smell like heaven. For example for a chocolate fragrance, try the Oncidium ‘Sharry Baby’.

Oncidium Orchid

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START HERE to Learn More About Caring for Orchids

Find Out What I Wish I Knew When I First Started Caring for Orchids

YES! THANK YOU!