Grass Pink Orchid is a Sex Machine

18 Mar

Calopogon pallidus and additional species


John and George checked out today the first day of the new Jonathan Dickinson State Park food truck and alfresco dining facility overlooking the river.  Four thumbs up on the chef.  Then full of hot dogs and Cheetos we wandered into a wet pine savanna for a better look at the zigzag bladderworts featured in last week’s blog for having odd nutritional practices.    So here’s the thing:   other plants in the Bladderwort Meadow eat funny too.   Plentiful also was sundew (Drosera) with its red bug-catching tentacled leaves.

Mixed in with the flesh-eaters were pretty Grass Pink Orchids, which have their own nutritional assistance…symbiotic (mycorrhizal) fungi with one end of the fungal filaments living internally in the orchid root cells, and the other end out in the mud securing sustenance, presumably mostly phosphorus and likely nitrogen.   Mycorrhizae are far from rare;  it just seems likely a little help from its fungal friends goes a long way in this case.

Calopogon has a curious pollination mechanism entomologist Charles Robinson described in rich detail right here in (Orlando) Florida in the Botanical Gazette of 1887.  In Calopogon the fancy third petal, the labellum, rises vertically.  The organ containing the pollen-receptive stigma and pollen-producing anthers, the column,  juts out horizontally below the labellum, with the stigma and anthers facing upward.

calopogon pallidus labels

That vertical labellum has a tuft of yellow hairs giving the genus its name (Calo-pogon = beautiful beard).    Bees go for yellow, the color of pollen, and you could interpret the yellow beard as false anthers offering bogus pollen.   A visiting bee grabs the beard seeking pollen, and surprise! The labellum is hinged and folds downward plopping the bee’s fuzzy back onto the stigma and real anthers with real pollen.

The column has raised sides like a playground sliding board.   The bee on its back slides down the board, first delivering any pollen from its back to the stigma, then the stigma applies glue to the bee’s back, and finally the sticky-backed bee brushes over the anthers where outbound pollen sticks to the glue.  Of it buzzes to flop and slide again in a different flower.  A three-stop assembly line.


Orchids usually package the pollen into hard masses called pollinia, but in Calopogon the masses are soft, the grains loosely connected by threads, interpreted by other botanists as an adaptation for snagging to the bee’s fuzzy flipside. The pollen winds up positioned where the bee can’t remove it.  The bee’s stuck with it until its next slip and fall.


Posted by on March 18, 2016 in Grass Pink Orchid, Uncategorized



8 responses to “Grass Pink Orchid is a Sex Machine

  1. theshrubqueen

    March 19, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Salacious botany? Really pretty plant, I haven’t seen any in my local swamp.

    • George Rogers

      March 19, 2016 at 10:42 am

      Well, spice sells. I thought about putting “Beyonce” in the tags. Calopogon is around, just where and when it wants to be, low wet areas, not so much standing water, just soggy feet…lots of sedges, carolina redroot, painted sedge, carnivorous plants. JD Parks has it along Kitching Creek Trail (but not easy to spot there), probably in Savannas.

      • theshrubqueen

        March 19, 2016 at 2:59 pm

        Can’t wait for the pollen post

      • George Rogers

        March 19, 2016 at 3:41 pm

        Have actually been thinking about one

  2. Suellen Granberry-Hager

    March 19, 2016 at 9:09 am

    Just when I thought I knew how orchid pollination goes, along comes this one with a different way of tricking bees. Reminds me a little of the pea-type legume flowers with the stamens and pistil in the keel, only the pollen ends up on the underside of the bee instead of on its back.

  3. George Rogers

    March 19, 2016 at 10:38 am

    Good point!…either way the weight of the bee brings it into contact with the business parts. It would be fun to portray or see the two side by side.

  4. leonorealaniz

    March 22, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    Quite awesome report. Sexy intelligence. Leave it to yellow hair, and its a sex machine, hahaaaaa !

    • George Rogers

      March 22, 2016 at 12:37 pm

      Yo Leonore, Always a wonderful surprise to see you. Hope spring is spring way up north where the daffodils grow…


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