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Adaptive radiation of the putrid perianth: Ferraria (Iridaceae: Irideae) and its unusual pollinators

Abstract

Field studies of 13 of the estimated 17 species of the southern African geophytic genus Ferraria (Iridaceae: Iridoideae) identified four distinct pollination systems. Ferraria flowers are radially symmetric and cupped with a large, mostly pale or dull-colored perianth. Perigonal nectaries secrete hexose dominant (fructose and glucose) nectar. Most species are pollinated by Diptera of four families, apparently attracted by strong floral odors, mostly putrid or fermenting, but sometimes apparently sweet, and a large perianth mottled and edged with dark color. Concentrated sugary secretions are produced on the tepal claws that form a shallow floral cup. In contrast, flowers of F. ferrariola have a deep, narrow floral cup, a pale blue or yellow perianth, and a spicy scent and are pollinated by bees in the family Apidae, rewarded by nectar of moderate sugar concentration. Ferraria divaricata and F. variabilis have dull-colored, darkly speckled or streaked perianths and produce ample, highly dilute nectar pooled at the base of the floral cup and are pollinated by eumenid and masarine wasps (Vespidae). Lastly, F. uncinata has flowers with a narrow floral cup and dull violet tepals with brown margins. They are visited only by meloid and melyrid beetles. All pollen transfers from the anther of a Ferraria flower to an insect’s body are passive, regardless of pollinator. Pollen load analyses suggests that all pollinators show a high degree of faithfulness to Ferraria flowers.

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Acknowledgments

Support for this study by grants 7103-01, 7316-02, and 7799-05 from the U.S. National Geographic Society is gratefully acknowledged. We extend our gratitude Ingrid Nänni and Lendon Porter for their assistance and companionship in the field. Collecting permits were provided by the Nature Conservation authorities of Northern Cape and Western Cape Provinces, South Africa. Wasp species were identified by James Carpenter, American Museum of Natural History; bees by James Michener, University of Kansas; Diptera by David Barraclough, University of KwaZulu-Natal; and Coleoptera by R. Stals, South African Plant Protection Research Institute and F. de Moor, Albany Museum, Grahamstown. Lastly, we thank SANBI for use of their field station at Nieuwoudtville.

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Goldblatt, P., Bernhardt, P. & Manning, J.C. Adaptive radiation of the putrid perianth: Ferraria (Iridaceae: Irideae) and its unusual pollinators. Plant Syst Evol 278, 53–65 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00606-008-0132-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00606-008-0132-x

Keywords

  • Ferraria
  • Diptera
  • Hymenoptera
  • Coleoptera
  • Pollination
  • Sapromyiophily
  • Sub-Saharan Africa