08 March 2021

Only one of these is a flower

The one on the left.  The other two are fungal growths.
The orange oddities were not really flowers at all. And the yellow-eyed grasses—which belong to a genus called Xyris—had not made them.

Instead they were mimics—the product of a fungus that Wurdack, who works at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and his colleagues recently described. The fungus, Fusarium xyrophilum, infects an Xyris plant and sterilizes it to block the plant’s own blooms. Then F. xyrophilum hijacks an as yet unknown aspect of the plant’s operations to host pseudoflowers made entirely of fungal tissue—potentially tricking pollinators to disperse its spores rather than pollen from the plant’s flowers. The finding is thought to be a first of its kind on record.

A handful of other fungal imposters only go partway, typically modifying a host’s leaves rather than building their own mock flower. For instance, some rust fungi belonging to the order Pucciniales induce hosts to produce rosettes of leaves (in place of their own flowers) on which the fungus erupts, resembling nearby yellow-colored flowers. Another fungal species called Monilinia vaccinii-corymbosi, which infects the leaves of blueberry bushes, does not form flowerlike structures. But the blighted leaves reflect UV light, emit a fermented tea odor similar to that of blueberry flowers and provide nectar, all of which could attract insects.
Fascinating.  Read more at Scientific American.

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