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Orchids: Active Sex in the Flowers Detected

By Scott Norris for National Geographic News
An agile Chinese orchid performs a floral version of sexual intercourse—with itself.

Researchers say an extension of the male flower part, or anther, turns an upside-down loop to deliver spermlike pollen spores directly into the female cavity.

The anther bends to enter the female chamber from below and is secured in place by a ring structure on its stalk to ensure fertilization.

The flower is the first known plant in which pollination is entirely self-directed, with no outside agents or forces—such as bees or breezes—playing a role.

Biologists observed the elaborate style of reproduction in the bisexual orchid Holcoglossum amesianum, a tree-dwelling plant found in the dry forests of China's southern Yunnan Province. LaiQiang Huang of Tsinghua University in Shenzhen and colleagues studied the unusual flower. The team's findings will appear in tomorrow's issue of the journal Nature. Reference.

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