Monday, August 22, 2011

Pretty picture: Calathea makoyana

You'd be forgiven for not believing me, but I think the Ficus elastica profile is going to happen this week. I know we've all been waiting for it for a long time (me absolutely included; I look forward to seeing the profiles at least as much as everybody else does). (UPDATE: And it was.)

While we wait, please enjoy this image of my Calathea makoyana, which has defied all odds and lived with me for sixteen months and counting:

A book I've been reading (Bell, Adrian D. Plant Form: An Illustrated Guide to Flowering Plant Morphology, 2nd ed., 2008, Timber Press, Portland OR) points out that Calathea makoyana's coloration mimics a pinnately compound leaf. This is true, and I'm surprised I hadn't thought of it this way before. On the other hand, the book doesn't offer any explanations for how this could benefit the plant, which is disappointing. I suppose maybe the coloration makes it look like there's less leaf there, maybe making other plants look like better food sources, but pinnately compound leaves do still get eaten, so that guess doesn't really satisfy me. I'm open to other theories.


Zach said...

My theory: the plant knows humans would think it was a cool pattern, so we'll keep it alive through tissue culture.

Peter said...

They're attractive to people, so mimicry to satisfy us is also a successful strategy.

The Phytophactor said...

I have a wild species, a non-cultivated Calathea and it has wonderfully attractive varigations. The only hypothesis I know of suggests the variations look like leaf mining, where larvae are eating the mesophyll between the epidermal layers, and thus a choosey insect would not lay their eggs on a leaf that someone else has already largely consumed. That insects can be this choosey is known, but with respect to leaf varigations I don't think this has been tested. Costa Rican Field Trip! Yeah!

Dennis said...

Good call on Plant Form. Very nice book, if oddly shaped.

Jenn said...

Pretty plant.

Pat said...

My favourite example is the chemical and visual mimicry of fungally infected leaves in an orchid in order to attract a pollinating insect that feeds off fungal damage.

Fake fungus-flecked foliage fools flat-footed flies

There are these papers showing the difference in herbivory on variegated and non-variegated plants of the same species. I am sure there are many more. It can have an advantage but if the herbivores have lots of variegated plants around they can learn that they are edible and have less energy to expend on defence.

It is much more difficult to test whether this is mimicry of toxic or spiny plants found in the same area and how much this might affect herbivory. From the pattern of the Calathea this seems likely.

Botany 2008

Evolutionary Ecology 2009

Oecologia 1986

Environmental Entomology 2003