Orchids, such as our Wildflower of the Year for 2016, Downy Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens) (Fig. 1), exemplify the interconnectedness of life on Earth. As would be the case for many kinds of plants, pollination comes readily to mind as a prominent example of mutualistic symbiosis. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain is pollinated by bumblebees and other native bees. The bees gain nectar and the orchid gets an efficient means to move pollen from one flower to another; each organism gains benefit from the interaction, the very definition of mutualism. Pollination by bees is widespread among the orchids, but there can be much variation in the nature of the pollinator reward (nectar, resin for building nests, and fragrance for attracting mates), and the choreography of bee behavior in the flower is as varied as the sizes and shapes of orchid flowers.
Copyright © 2015, Virginia Native Plant Society. This article first appeared in Sempervirens (Summer 2016), 12-13.
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Hayden, W. John. "Endless Symbioses Most Intricate." Sempervirens, Summer 2016, 12-13.