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Plant Systematics and Evolution

, Volume 222, Issue 1–4, pp 243–269 | Cite as

The structure and function of orchid pollinaria

  • S. D. Johnson
  • T. J. Edwards
Article

Abstract

Cohesive masses of pollen known as pollinia have evolved independently in two plant families — Orchidaceae and Asclepiadaceae. Yet, the bilateral symmetry of orchids has allowed a greater degree of specialization in pollination systems and a much greater diversity in the morphology of pollinaria — units comprising the pollinia(um) together with accessory structures for attachment to the pollinator. Pollinaria differ in the degree of cohesion of pollen in the pollinium, which may be soft, sectile (comprised of sub-units known as massulae) or hard. A single hard pollinium may contain more than a million pollen grains, yet pollen:ovule ratios in orchids are several orders of magnitude lower than in plants with powdery pollen due to the lack of wastage during transport to the stigma. Attachment of pollinia to the pollinator is usually achieved by means of a viscidium that adheres most effectively to smooth surfaces, such as the eyes and mouthparts of insects and beaks of birds. The stalk connecting a pollinium to the viscidium may be comprised of a caudicle (sporogenous in origin) and/or a stipe (derived from vegetative tissue), or be lacking altogether. Caudicles and stipes may undergo a gradual bending movement 20 s to several hours after withdrawal from the flower, the main function of which appears to be to reduce the possibility of geitonogamous pollination. Other mechanisms that promote outcrossing and pollen export in orchids include pollen carryover (achieved by sectile or soft pollinia), temporary retention of the anther cap, protandry and self-incompatibility (rare among orchids). Pollinaria ensure that large pollen loads are deposited on the stigma, thus enabling the fertilization of the large numbers of ovules in the flowers of Orchidaceae. Pollinaria also ensure efficient removal of pollen from the anther, minimal pollen wastage during transit, and a high probability of deposition on conspecific stigmas.

Key words

Orchidaceae geitonogamy gene flow pollen pollen discounting pollen:ovule ratio pollinaria pollination pollinium seed size self-incompatibility 

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© Springer-Verlag 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. D. Johnson
    • 1
  • T. J. Edwards
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Botany and ZoologyUniversity of NatalScottsvilleSouth Africa

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