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The weird sex life of orchids | feature

09 / 10 / 2011, The Guardian

Orchids use bizarre devices to ensure they reproduce – including impersonating the sex organs of a female beeWe animals don't give plants nearly enough credit. "A vegetable" is how we refer to a person who has been reduced to a condition of utter helplessness, having lost most of the essential tools for getting along in life. Yet plants get along in life just fine, thank you, and had done so for millions of years before we came along. True, they lack such abilities as locomotion, the command of tools and fire, the miracles of consciousness and language. But the next time you're tempted to celebrate human consciousness as the pinnacle of evolution, stop for a moment to consider exactly where you got that idea. Human consciousness. Not exactly an objective source.So let us celebrate some other pinnacles of evolution, the kind that would get a lot more press if natural history were written by plants rather than animals. I'm thinking specifically of one of the largest, most diverse families of flowering plants: the 25,000 species of orchids that, over the past 80 million years, have managed to colonise six continents and almost every conceivable terrestrial habitat, from remote Mediterranean mountaintops to living rooms the world over. The secret of their success? In a word, sex. But not exactly normal sex. Really weird sex, in fact. Continue reading...

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