White Egret Orchid

A beautiful white orchid known as the white egret orchid Habenaria radiata has distinctive petals with long fringes on each side of the flower.  These were thought to simply act as visual signals to attract their main pollinators, two species of nocturnal hawkmoths.  Scientists in Japan have studied the interaction between moths and orchids and found the fringes are more than just visual display. 

The researchers trimmed the fringes from flowers to see what effect that had on pollination.  The Hawkmoths visited to the trimmed flowers and the flowers set fruit.  However, the trimmed flowers had fewer healthy seeds than intact flowers.  This indicates there was a problem with pollen transfer. 

Moths usually hover over flowers and drink nectar through their long proboscis.  However, the hawkmoth proboscis is not long enough for it do this with the white egret orchid.  Instead, it grasps the petal fringes with it legs, using the fringes as stabilisers while it drinks nectar.  This enables more efficient transfer of pollen. 

The research team wrote in their report: “It is well known that angiosperm petals act as visual attractions, but their other functions have not received much attention. Further experiments are needed to gain a deeper understanding of petal function and diversity.”

Reference: Botany One 1 August 2022; Ecology, 19 June 2022, doi: 10.1002/ecy.3781

Editorial Comment:  This is a good example of how nothing in the living world functions alone.  The fringed orchid and moth work well together, but how would a half-evolved orchid without fringes know it needed to form them when it wasn’t being pollinated properly? 

This orchid is also a good reminder that everything God made both beautiful and functional.  Flower petals are beautiful and attractive to pollinators and people, but they are also brilliantly designed to have other functions, and have sometime inspired human technology. 

Sadly, the world has degenerated since then due to human sin and God’s judgement, but it always a delight to come across reminders of the original very world that was both beautiful and functional.

Photo of orchid: Alpsdake CC BY-SA 3.0

Creation Research News 24 August 2022

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