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Colors, shapes and odours

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Rodricidium 'Tahiti'.
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Michel Tremblay)

Colours and shapes

The flower colours we perceive are entirely different from those perceived by insects and birds. They are just as important as the plant’s moving parts or the type of trap it uses. Blue, violet, purple, yellow and white are most attractive to bees, whereas birds are more drawn to contrasting colours, bright red in particular. The shape of the markings on the labellum may also play a role in mimicry or as a reward signal. The shape of the flower itself or of some of its parts also plays a key role, not only in mimicry or pseudocopulation, but also in making the pollinator-flower interaction as effective as possible. Insects often require a “landing pad,” while tubular flowers allow birds to hover in place while using their beaks to get at the nectar.

Scents

Just like colours, scents – both pleasant and rotten ones – influence the type of pollinator associated with a particular plant. For instance, a Bulbophyllum inflorescence gives off a putrefied scent to attract pollinating flies that are attracted to rotten meat.

Orchids’ success as one of the most evolved plant groups, their diversity and their broad distribution around the globe all owe much to their highly diversified and sophisticated means of pollination. In addition to boasting the most popular cultivated species with showy blooms, the Orchidaceae family includes many delightful members with flowers of unsuspected complexity. Orchids offer much to interest amateur botanists, with their adaptions to their habitats and their pollinators. You may even find yourself dreaming of travelling to exotic locales to find new specimens!

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