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Orchids Make Fake Pollen to Tempt the Bees – But Scientists Discover it’s as Valuable as the Real Thing

Unable to attract bees and other pollinators to its golden pollen, Cypripedium wardii, a species of orchid native to Tibet and China, it creates pollen from “fool’s gold,” a sugary snack that attracts insects between its petals and covers them with real pollen.

Pseudopollen, as it is called, has been observed before in orchids, a species whose true pollen is inedible. For many bees, pollen is a key source of protein, and while nectar is sweet, it cannot sustain them forever.

The beautiful Cypripedium The orchid family is known as “lady’s slipper” orchids, thanks to an inverted bowl-shaped petal arrangement found at the bottom of their flowers.

This lower flower contains tiny hairs that break down into a powder that looks like normal pollen.

Orchids are notorious scammers. Some species not only produce this pseudopollen, but others release pheromones that smell like receptive bees or female flies.

Lady’s Slipper Orchid / Orchi, CC license

They were not known to return anything to pollinators, as they do not produce nectar. If they did not produce nectar or scents, and their pollen was inedible, how did orchids reliably ensure pollinator service?

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in a study currently awaiting peer review, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences observed 12 solitary bees that were caught by flies C. Wardii in the Sichuan Mountains, and start interacting with the pseudopollen. Subsequent dissection revealed that pollinators were consuming fool’s gold for food.

An analysis of the pseudopollen showed that it contained lipids or fats, indicating its nutritional value for bees.

Talking with Sciences On the subject, a botanist thought that the only ones fooled by pseudopollen were actually botanists, and that pollinators know very well that fool’s gold has a benefit for them.

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