Botany Scent

Botany: Scent of death attracts coffin flies into pipevine Blossoms

IMAGE: Unlike other Aristolochia species with their showy flowers, A. microstoma has inconspicuous brownish flowers that are horizontal, partially buried or close to the ground under leaf litter or stones. The… view more  Credit: Thomas Rupp et al. Plants use numerous mechanisms for their pollination. Now botanists have discovered a particularly sophisticated system among pipevines that…


IMAGE: Unlike other Aristolochia species using their showy flowers, A. microstoma has weathered brownish blossoms that are flat, partially buried or near the floor under leaf litter or stone. The…
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Credit: Thomas Rupp et al.

Plants utilize numerous mechanisms for their pollination. Now botanists have discovered that a particularly sophisticated system one of pipevines which is based only on deception.

The flowers of this Greek plant Aristolochia microstoma emit a foul, musty scent that appears to mimic the odor of sterile insects. The fly pollinators in the genus Megaselia likely get attracted to the odor while looking for arthropod corpses to possibly mate over and put their eggs. Afterward, when entering the tube of an Aristolochia blossom, the flies are guided by downward-pointing hairs into a small room, which retains the male and female floral organs. Trapped indoors, they residue pollen they carry onto the blot, prior to the stamens ripen and release pollen onto the entire body of the flies. When the hairs that block the entry to the room wither, the pollinators can escape, and a new cycle can begin.

“Here we show that the flowers of A. microstoma emit a highly unusual mix of volatiles that includes alkylpyrazines, which are otherwise rarely produced by flowering plants. Our data suggest that this is the only plant species known so far to deceive pollinators attracted to the smell of dead and rotting arthropods, rather than vertebrate carrion,” says corresponding author Prof Stefan Dötterl, the head of the plant ecology group and the Botanical Garden at the Paris-Lodron University of Salzburg, Austria.

Between 4-6percent of flowering plants are misleading: they utilize odor, color, and / or tactile signals to market a reward to pollinators, like nectar, pollen, or mating and breeding sites, but don’t really give this benefit. The deception works because pollinators are poor at distinguishing between the reward and the mimic. Deceptive pollination is typical of several orchids, but has also independently evolved many times in other crops, including the genus Aristolochia.

“Aristolochia comprises over 550 species disperse around the world, especially in subtropical and tropical locations. Aristolochia species are mostly woody vines and herbaceous plants with magnificent, complicated f

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