Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 32, Issue 11, pp 2429–2441 | Cite as

Floral Phenylpropanoid Cocktail and Architecture of Bulbophyllum vinaceum Orchid in Attracting Fruit Flies for Pollination

  • Keng Hong Tan
  • Lin Tze Tan
  • Ritsuo Nishida


It is widely believed that most orchid flowers attract insects by using deception or chemical rewards in the form of nectar. Flowers of Bulbophyllum vinaceum produce a large array of phenylpropanoids that lure tephritid fruit fly males and also act as floral reward, which the flies subsequently convert to pheromone components. The major floral volatile components identified are methyl eugenol (ME), trans-coniferyl alcohol (CF), 2-allyl-4,5-dimethoxphenol (DMP), and trans-3,4-dimethoxycinnamyl acetate, whereas the minor components are eugenol, euasarone, trans-3,4-dimethoxy cinnamyl alcohol, and cis-coniferyl alcohol. Among the various floral parts, the lip (which is held in a closed position up against the sexual organs) has the highest concentration of the major compounds. An attracted male fly normally lands on one of the petals before climbing up onto and forcing the “spring loaded” floral lip into the open position, hence exposing the floral sexual organs. The architecture and location of chemical attractants of the lip compel the fly to align itself along the lip’s longitudinal axis in a precise manner. As the fly laps up the compounds and moves towards the base of the lip, it passes the point of imbalance causing the lip to spring back to its normal closed position. The fly is catapulted headfirst into the column cavity, and its dorsum strikes the protruding sticky base of the hamulus and adheres to it. The momentum of the fly and the structural morphology of the long stiff hamulus act to pry out the pollinia from its anther cover. Hence, the pollinarium (pollinia + hamulus) is detached from the flower and adhered to the fly’s dorsum. In this unique mutualistic association, both species receive direct reproductive benefits—the flower’s pollinarium is transported for cross pollination, and the fly is offered a bouquet of phenylpropanoids (synomone) that it consumes, converts, and/or sequesters as sex pheromonal components, thus enhancing sexual attraction and mating success.


Bulbophyllum vinaceum Orchidaceae Phenylpropanoids Fruit fly Bactrocera dorsalis B. unimacula Tephritidae Synomone Sex pheromone Pollination Dynamic lip mechanism 



We express our thanks to Jaap J. Vermeulen of National Herbarium Netherlands, Leiden Branch for useful information on Bu. vinaceum. This work was partially supported by the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research from JSPS (No. 15405022) and a Grant-in-Aid for the 21st Century COE Program for Innovative Food and Environmental Studies Pioneered by Entomomimetic Sciences, from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan. We also thank Diogo Ezequiel and Kayin Dawoodi for their work on dynamic flower mechanisms.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tan Hak Heng Co.PenangMalaysia
  2. 2.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Laboratory of Chemical Ecology, Graduate School of AgricultureKyoto UniversityKyotoJapan

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