Parachute flower – The con artist of plants


The parachute flower. Photo credit: Ulrich Meve

Many organisms can use underhanded methods to get what they want. I thought that these organisms would just be from the animal kingdom. It turns out the parachute flower (Ceropegia sandersonii) found in South Africa can be deceptive as well.

Flies from the genus Desmometopa eat the fluids released from honey bees when a predator of the honeybee is attacking and killing the honeybee. Honeybees emit an ‘alarm pheromone’ when it is under attack. The flies being able to detect the scent and go feast on the honeybees. The parachute flower produces chemicals that is similar to the ‘alarm pheromone’ which attracts the flies. Thus, the fly becomes conned out of a meal. The parachute plant traps the flies for 24 hours allowing the flies to collect pollen while the flies are trying to find a way out. Once released these flies are not in the best shape (tired from finding a way out) and are attracted by neighbouring parachute plants and the con cycle starts all over again.

There are about 15000 plants which do not give rewards to pollinators. Around 15% of animal pollinated plants are pollinated by flies. Trickery by organisms are mainly used for food and reproduction purposes. Some plants may use smell to attract the organism for food (Venus fly trap) others may use color (fluorescent blue by some pitcher plants). Plants such as the bee orchid use smells and colors of female bees to attract the male bees which pollinate the plant.

Take home message: Plants do not always get the short end of the stick. Some plants will use trickery to get their way.



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