Stop by our greenhouses this week and visit Darwin's Star Orchid. This unique orchid has nectar tube several inches long, which is what attracted Darwin's attention. Below is the back story excerpted from a post by the New York Botanical Garden.
The story goes that Darwin was sent a sample of the flower in 1862. Upon seeing its long, narrow, nectar tube, he predicted that there must be an insect with a very long proboscis (a tongue-like part) that could reach deep within the hollow space to “drink” the nectar at the bottom. In so doing the insect would bump into the flower’s sticky pollen, enabling its transfer from one flower to another.
But no such insect had ever been seen in Madagascar where the orchid came from, or anywhere else. And many scientists believed Darwin was wildly wrong, so he was ridiculed for his prediction.
Nonetheless, Darwin firmly believed that the star orchid had developed its long nectar tube as an adaptation to help ensure pollination because orchid flowers have their pollen in a single mass and cannot disperse it as other flowers do. The orchids need their specific insect pollinators to survive.
Sure enough, about four decades after Darwin’s prediction, an insect with the exact physical characteristics that Darwin had predicted was discovered. Called the Hawk Moth, its scientific name is Xanthopan morganii praedicta, which is Latin for ‘predicted moth’ in honor of Darwin.
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