Four groups of insects are known as pollinators:
Dipterans or Flies
Lepidopterans or Butterflies/Moths
Hymenopterans or Wasps
This story, however, is about Clusia spp. The picture below shows what the tree looks like:
Clusia are trees of the Caribbean, including the Bahamas, Hispaniola, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Florida. They are pretty amazing for several reasons:
a) they are hemiepiphytes, which means they start life as epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants, mostly for support and not for kinky or parasitic reasons). In fact, they are quite similar to the strangler fig.
Here it is: Strangling in three easy steps
One more because it looks so dam cool!
So, while it does start life the unholy way, Clusia soon sees the error of its ways and starts to repent hence the term hemiepiphyte.
b) Look at its beautifully glabrous, dark green leaves, shaped like fat tear drops.
They are responsible for the plant's common name, the autograph tree. You can write on the upper surface and the writing not only registers, it stays! For a long time since the leaves are long-lived.
But the clever people on this blog turned it into an art. Look at the beautiful shapes that they drew:
c) It has very pretty flowers. Solitary, with 6-8 petals that are either white or pink, and with numerous yellow stamens.
d) If you think the flowers are pretty, you have to see the fruits! Because of the fruits, balsam apple and pitch-apple are two other common names of this plant. They are so decorative that they are often used as part of bouquets!
But after they have opened...
e) Some of the members of this genus produce floral resin that they use as a reward for their apian pollinators. The bees then use it to build their nests.
f) It is also the subject of this research article. The authors hypothesized that for a particular species of Clusea, none of the other insects would do. If they were going to be pollinated, it was going to be:
Here is what was done to the poor roaches:
“In September 2006, 11 cockroaches were captured after
they had contacted staminate flowers and these were used
to determine pollen load (Dafni, 1992). The animals were
immobilized with ethyl acetate and washed with few
drops of 96 % ethanol. The drops were spread on a small
area of a Petri dish covered with a thin layer of gelatin–
fuchsin and the ethanol was allowed to evaporate. In the
laboratory, the layer of gelatin–fuchsin was excised,
melted on a microscope slide and examined under a light
microscope for the presence of pollen grains.”
There was also some antenna slicing that led to something sciency. (Okay, went back and read this part. It is a technique called Electroantennography (EAG). They used it to discover how the plant was attracting the roaches in the first place. It is doing so by secreting a male roach pheromone.)
The interesting part is that this species has other visitors as well. Crickets, ants, and moths. Those insects are more likely to feed on the pollen rather than transfer it. Cockroaches, on the other hand, have no specialized structures that would help them carry the pollen but still do not gobble it up! The plant rewards them with a liquid that is produced at the top of the petals and base of the ovary.
Of course all of this reminded me of the PFG episode where they had to deal with a roach guy.
#Roaches #Pollination #AoB #Botany #Roachology