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Mimicry and pseudocopulation

Bulbophyllum Elizabeth Ann 'Bucklebury' AM/RHS.
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Gilles Murray)
Bulbophyllum Elizabeth Ann 'Bucklebury' AM/RHS


This is probably one of the most fascinating phenomena in the plant world, especially because it manifests itself in such a wide variety of ways among different groups of unrelated insects and orchids. Bulbophyllum orchids attract flies by resembling rotting meat. Many species mimic the flowers of other plants in order to attract their pollinators. Dodson mentions a male bee that pollinates the Oncidium genus by attacking the inflorescence that mimics another male in flight. The attacking bee’s head gets covered in the ejected pollinia, which it then deposits on the next plant it “attacks.”


Some flowers lure males by mimicking a female insect, in whole or in part. The Trichoceros genus is an excellent example of this adaptation – its hairs and moveable parts resemble a female fly. As Dressler reminds us, orchids are not equipped with intelligence. This phenomenon, like those that depend on cross-pollination, is the result of evolution: trial and error through genetic selection over the very long term and the reproduction of successful individuals.

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