Plant Systematics and Evolution

, Volume 280, Issue 1, pp 37–44

Specialized pollination in the African milkweed Xysmalobium orbiculare: a key role for floral scent in the attraction of spider-hunting wasps

Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00606-009-0171-y

Cite this article as:
Shuttleworth, A. & Johnson, S.D. Plant Syst Evol (2009) 280: 37. doi:10.1007/s00606-009-0171-y


Specialized pollination by prey-hunting wasps is poorly documented in rewarding plants. Furthermore, the mechanisms of achieving specialization are not clear since flowers typically produce exposed nectar and have no morphological adaptations (such as long spurs) to exclude non-pollinating visitors. We investigated the pollination of Xysmalobium orbiculare and explored the functional roles of floral scent and nectar in attracting pollinators and deterring nectar robbers. Floral visitor observations showed that this milkweed is visited almost exclusively by pompilid wasps in the genus Hemipepsis. These wasps were the only insects to carry pollinia, and a cage experiment confirmed their effectiveness in removing and inserting pollinia on flowers. Hand-pollinations showed that plants are genetically self-incompatible and thus reliant on pollinators for seed set. Palatability experiments with honeybees showed that nectar is distasteful to non-pollinating insects and is therefore likely to play a functional role in deterring nectar thieves. Choice experiments in the field showed that the wasp pollinators are attracted primarily by floral scent rather than visual cues. Analysis of spectral reflectance of flowers revealed that flowers are dull colored and are unlikely to stand out from the background vegetation. We conclude that X. orbiculare is specialized for pollination by spider-hunting wasps in the genus Hemipepsis and utilizes floral scent to selectively attract its pollinators and unpalatable nectar to deter non-pollinating visitors.


ApocynaceaeAsclepiadoideaePompilidaePollination syndromeBreeding systemSelf-incompatibilityFloral filter

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological and Conservation SciencesUniversity of KwaZulu-NatalPietermaritzburgSouth Africa