Beauty, mystery and deceit—the Smithsonian's collection of nearly 8,000 live orchids has it all
Though it may look commonplace, this solid red orchid is actually quite rare. The species, Cattleya (Sophronitis) coccinea, requires cool temperatures and lives at elevations of 2,000 to 6,000 feet in the forests of Brazil. “In the upper elevations where it is cool, there is much less insect activity, since insects are coldblooded. So as you get higher and higher up in the mountains, you tend to see these brighter colors attracting warmblooded pollinators,” says Mirenda. The brilliant hue of coccinea, for instance, lures hummingbirds.
Though he is not certain if this is the case for coccinea, Mirenda says that, in general, flowers with a strong visual cue are often just a tease—offering no reward, such as nectar, for the visiting pollinator. “It is all about manipulation,” says Mirenda.
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