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Perfume orchids: Scent as reward

Perfume flowers are only found in the tropics of the Americas, and include many orchids. These plants reward their pollinators with scent. It seems hard to imagine that bees could collect fragrances; usually they’re fed with nectar or pollen. We encounter scents every day, usually in liquid or solid form, like perfume in bottles or sharp-smelling mothballs. Perfume flowers also produce aromatic compounds in considerable quantities, in liquid or solid form.

Euglossine bees, which mostly have an unusual metallic sheen, are enticed by the aroma. Surprisingly, only male bees collect scent. Like any customer, they have their special preferences when it comes to perfume; not every bee collects every scent. So each male orchid bee seeks out particular species of orchid and transfers pollen from one flower to another. The unique aspect here is that the scent that attracts the bees is also the only reward for their help in pollination.



Audio file download
Perfume orchids: Scent as reward (MP3, 521 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Günter Gerlach, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg