Quirks & Quarks

Question - Do plants mimic other plants?

Plants such as barnyard grass mimic other plants in order to ensure their survival.

Plants such as barnyard grass mimic other plants in order to ensure their survival

New research provides genomic evidence that barnyard grass benefited from human continuous hand weeding from rice fields, as it spread out of the Yangtze River region about 1,000 years ago (Shutterstock)

This week's Question comes from Luc Josh in Edmonton. He asks:

Are there plants that mimic other plants in order to be more successful?

Steve Shirtlife, a professor from the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Saskatchewan says that it is not uncommon for one plant to mimic another in order to create a deception. One of the best examples in the natural world of one plant mimicking another is found in the area of pollination biology.

In this example there is an orchid that had evolved a colour and shape that is similar to a bell flower. The purpose is to attract pollinating insects such as leafcutter bees. However, this plant does not produce nectar and so the leafcutter bee does not receive a reward from the deceptive orchid. 

Another example is a plant that has evolved to deceive humans. In traditional rice production in Asia, barnyard grass, an aggressive weed, was historically pulled out of rice paddies by hand. Barnyard grass looks similar to rice, but there are noticeable differences in colour and leaf shape.

However, years and years of pulling this weed from the rice fields has selected for barnyard grass that looks very similar to rice seedlings. In fact, at a glance, it is hard to tell the difference. In other words barnyard grass has evolved this deception to mimic the rice and to evade control by humans.

 

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