Orchids have developed highly specialized pollination systems and thus the chances of being pollinated are often scarce. This is why orchid flowers usually remain receptive for very long periods and why most orchids deliver pollen in a single mass; each time pollination succeeds thousands of ovules can be fertilized.
Pollinators are often visually attracted by the shape and colours of the labellum. The flowers may produce attractive odours. Although absent in most species, nectar may be produced in a spur of the labellum, on the point of the sepals or in the septa of the ovary, the most typical position amongst the Asparagales.
Methods of PollinationEdit
In orchids that produce pollinia, pollination happens as some variant of the following. When the pollinator enters into the flower, it touches a viscidium, which promptly sticks to its body, generally on the head or abdomen. While leaving the flower, it pulls the pollinium out of the anther, as it is connected to the viscidium by the caudicle or stipe. The caudicle then bends and the pollinium is moved forwards and downwards. When the pollinator enters another flower of the same species, the pollinium has taken such position that it will stick to the stigma of the second flower, just below the rostellum, pollinating it. The possessors of orchids may be able to reproduce the process with a pencil or similar device.
Some orchids mainly or totally rely on self-pollination, especially in colder regions where pollinators are particularly rare. The caudicles may dry up if the flower hasn't been visited by any pollinator and the pollina then fall directly on the stigma. Otherwise the anther may rotate and then enter the stigma cavity of the flower (as in Holcoglossum amesianum).
In some extremely specialized orchids, like the Eurasian genus Ophrys, the labellum is adapted to have a colour, shape and odour which attracts male insects via mimicry of a receptive female. Pollination happens as the insect attempts to mate with flowers.
Many neotropical orchids are pollinated by male orchid bees, which visit the flowers to gather volatile chemicals they require to synthesize pheromonal attractants. Each type of orchid places the pollinia on a different body part of a different species of bee, so as to enforce proper cross-pollination.
An underground orchid in Australia, Rhizanthella slateri, never sees the light of day and depends on ants and other terrestrial insects to pollinate it.
Catasetum, a genus discussed briefly by Darwin actually launches its viscid pollinia with explosive force when an insect touches a seta, knocking the pollinator off the flower.
After pollination the sepals and petals fade and wilt, but they usually remain attached to the ovary.
- See Orchid propagation section Sexual reproduction for more information.