Babiana triple whammy

Sat, 19 Jan 2008 14:03:25 PST
 Dear Pacific Bulb Society,

 I enjoy it when bulbs and geophytes are described in magazine or newspaper articles.  Natural History magazine (Feb. 2008, p. 64) contains a story by Bruce Anderson and Cemeron Ewart-Smith on the relationship between the" rat-tail" of Babiana ringens  and pollinating birds.  

B. ringens is unusual because the inflorescence is low to the ground but typically has an extra vertical "stem " that rises above the flowers.  The vertical structure called the rat-tail stalk.  The PBS Wiki displays this beautifully:

LINK:  B. ringens rat-tail rising from bloom cluster….   

The rat-tail has long been observed to provide a perch for certain birds; they hold on with their feet and can lean down and withdraw nectar from multiple flowers.  Interestingly, the rat-tail is part of a flower too (guessing an elongated pedicel); it holds a single bud high, but the high flying bud seldom opens and seems to be an evolutionary relic.  Dr. Anderson wanted to know if the rat-tail was important for plant reproduction; after all, it is part of the flowering structure.  

A few years ago Dr. Anderson conducted experiments wherein he removed the rat-tail and then measured reproductive success in the various plants.  "Perchless plants" (those without the rat-tail) produce far fewer seeds than do typical plants.  Dr. Anderson thinks that without the perch birds must feed from the ground (the flowers are low) and that such feeding does not facilitate pollen transfer from plant to plant.  Additionally, Dr. Anderson points out that plants with perches have many more bird visitors than plants without perches; hence, pollination is facilitated because more birds visit more flowers.  Moreover, by providing a mechanism to facilitate outcrossing (movement of pollen from plant to plant), the rat-tail provides a clever mechanism to prevent inbreeding.  Thus, lack of the rat-tail causes a triple whammy!  Babiana is a clever plant indeed.  

LINK:  More photos of B. ringens (rat-tails showing)… 

LINK:  Original article from Nature…





Conroe TX

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