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Bent innards give orchid its kick

A flower mechanism for smacking pollen onto bees opens up diverse possibilities for floral architecture

SNOWBIRD, Utah — Like so many people, Catasetum orchids get rough because they’re bent out of shape.

Male flowers in this tropical genus don’t wait for a visiting bee to load up on pollen by nuzzling against it, explains Daniel Fulop of Harvard University. When a bee lands, brushing a flower’s long trigger hairs, a floral structure slams a pollen mass onto the bee’s back.

After studying 16 species in the genus, Fulop and Harvard colleague Jacques Dumais have now figured out how the pollen smacker works. Its power comes from the sudden release of a bent strip of tissue attached to the pollen mass, Fulop reported July 27 at the Botany & Mycology 2009 meeting.

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