VIDEO: Bizarre orchid behaviours revealed

By Noushka Reiter 29 November 2013
Reading Time: < 1 Print this page
More so than anywhere else, our orchids are deceitful temptresses, which lure their victims.

WITH MORE THAN 100 genera of orchids in Australia – the majority of which are ground-living and endemic – it is impossible to cover the diversity without the weight of a large book. We have more than 1700 of the roughly 26,000 species in the Orchidaceae family known globally yet, regrettably, 25 per cent of orchid extinctions occur here.

In part our species are vulnerable because they require symbiotic relationships with specific types of ‘mycorrhizal’ fungi to grow and germinate, and many are pollinated by a unique species of pollinator. Unravelling one thread in these complex relationships can have disastrous consequences.

There are many ways in which Australian orchids are pollinated, but the majority require a third-party pollinator to transfer pollen from one plant to another. Some provide a pollen or nectar food reward; others simply mimic food-rewarding plants but provide no treat.

One of the more interesting pollination syndromes in Australia is sexual deception. Male thynnine wasps are drawn in by pheromones, and then copulate with the flowers, thinking they are female wasps. This transmits pollen between plants. These relationships are very specific, with many individual species of orchid pollinated by individual species of wasp.

Deceptive orchids lure wasps for pollination
World’s first night-flowering orchid discovered
Underground orchid an evolutionary enigma
‘Extinct’ orchid found after 70 years
Rare spider orchid sprouts after Black Saturday fires
Australia’s most poisonous plants