Flower Disguises As Mushroom To Get Pollinated

Scientists in Japan have discovered that the flowers of the ‘cast iron plant’ mimic mushrooms to attract fungus gnats, which assist with pollination.

AsianScientist (Nov. 22, 2017) – In a study published in Ecology, scientists in Japan have discovered that the flowers of the Aspidistra elatior plant mimic the shape and smell of mushroom to attract pollinators.

The mysterious flowers of A. elatior are found on the southern Japanese island of Kuroshima. Its purple, fleshy flowers bloom directly above the soil, almost burrowing into the ground, and are often hidden by leaf litter. Their appearance has been compared to mushrooms.

Until recently, scientists thought that A. elatior had the most unusual pollination ecology among all flowering plants: being pollinated by slugs and amphipods. In 2009, there was a report of fungus gnats visiting the A. elatior flowers, but this observation was made outside the plant’s native habitat and was not conclusive proof of pollination by fungus gnats.

In this study, a team of researchers led by Professor Kenji Suetsugu of the Kobe University Graduate School of Science in Japan revealed that A. elatior are mainly pollinated by fungus gnats. The researchers discovered this after observing the animals that visited the flowers in their native habitat, day and night, over a span of two years.

“We discovered that no slugs visited, and hardly did any beach fleas. The candidate that emerged as an effective pollinator was the fungus gnat. Fungus gnats that visited the plants quickly dived into the center of the flowers, attached a large amount of pollen to their bodies, and flew away,” said Suetsugu.

The team also saw fungus gnats arriving at A. elatior flowers carrying pollen from other flowers, and documented that the flowers visited by the fungus gnats produced fruit. This proved that fungus gnats were the true pollinators.

“We believe that the similar appearance of A. elatior and mushroom fruit bodies may help attract fungus gnats. In addition, A. elatior emits a strong musty odor. Therefore, the fungus gnats may be deceived by both visual and chemical mimicry,” explained Suetsugu.

These findings have overturned a widely accepted theory and clarified that, like most plants, A. elatior are pollinated mainly by flying insects.

The article can be found at: Suetsugu et al. (2017) Subterranean Flowers of Aspidistra elatior are Mainly Pollinated by not Terrestrial Amphipods but Fungus Gnats.


Source: Kobe University.
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