Monday, April 28, 2014

Pantomiming plant

Earlier this month, I blogged about a first in the animal kingdom, discovered in Brazil. Now, South America has yielded a first in the plant kingdom. Native to Chile and Argentina is a woody vine called Boquila trifoliolata. While a few plants – including a type of mistletoe in Australia – can mimic another species, this vine is the first seen to transform its leaves to copy a number of different host trees. Mimetic polymorphism, as it is called, has previously only been observed in butterflies. B. trifoliolata's versatile leaves can change their size, shape, color, orientation, and even their vein patterns to match the surrounding foliage. If the vine crosses over to a second tree, it changes again, even if the new host leaves are 10 times bigger with a contrasting shape. The sophisticated camouflage defends against herbivores like weevils and leaf beetles, but the researchers point out that more study is needed since the vine doesn’t actually have to touch or climb the tree whose leaves it mimics; it only has to be near it.

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