Nine Ways to Lure a Lover, Orchid-Style

Beauty, mystery and deceit—the Smithsonian’s collection of nearly 8,000 live orchids has it all

(James Osen)

The Power of Medusae

Habenaria medusae
(James Osen)
Like Aerangis distincta in Africa, Habenaria medusae in Indonesia is a white orchid that is pollinated by moths. “If you look at the flower from the side, you’ll see that there is a nectar spur behind each flower,” says Mirenda.

The lip of the Indonesian species, however, is a dramatic splay of serpentine-like strands. Hence the name: medusae, after Greek mythology’s Medusa, whose hair turns into snakes. “There is something about the compound vision of moths and butterflies that makes fringe extremely attractive to them,” says Mirenda. “I don’t know if it is somehow focused, when you have a hundred little lenses in your eye, into some delightful shape. Until we can get inside the brain of a moth, we don’t really know what it is that they see.”

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