Posts tagged Charles Darwin

Orchids, Confucius and Darwin


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Orchids’ first association with humanity was said to be made by Confucius, as he said in Confucius’ Family Dialogue:  “The orchids let out their fragrance even if there is no one around to appreciate it. Likewise, men of noble character will not let poverty deter their will guided by high principles and morals.”(In Chinese“芝蘭生於森林, 不為無人而不芳, 君子修道立德, 不為窮困而改節.”)

On several occasions, Confucius expressed his deep love of orchids. He even called these magnificent plants the “King of Fragrance”. He, also along with many Chinese scholars, wrote numerous poems about orchids. The elegant appearance, the fragrance and the character of the orchids attract people to admire them and stand in awe of how they appear in this world.

Every year, at the beginning of March, there is an international orchid show in Santa Barbara. As I was told, it is the biggest one in the state.  I was overwhelmed by the displays when I paid a visit to the orchid show there the first time many years ago. There were thousands of beautiful orchids there for the people to enjoy. I love orchids so much that I try to go every year. On my blog, I have also written a few articles about orchids. Here are the links to  these articles:

Wisdom of Orchids(Part 1)


As you can see, I wrote about the wisdom of orchids. A third of orchids use a deceptive method to become pollinated. They are truly the most fascinating plants in this world. While I was thinking about this, I was reminded of the story about orchids and Charles Darwin.

flowers of the orchid A. sesquipedale

The beautiful flowers of the orchid A. sesquipedale with the long, green nectaries hanging behind them. Photograph: Ardetti et al, 2012

According to Dr. Dave Hone in an article published by the Guardian, around 150 years ago, Charles Darwin was sent a box of orchids with the exceptionally long nectaries and hypothesized that there must be some insect with a very, very, very long tongue that could pollinate it. After all, if such an insect did not exist to pollinate the flower, how could it have survived all these years? However, no such insect was found until 1907, when a subspecies of an African Congo moth was found with an exceptionally long tongue span in Madagascar, where the orchids grew freely. In 1997, it was finally confirmed that the moth pollinated the orchid, as a scientist taped this interaction. Orchids are truly amazing, having coevolved with this moth to survive in our world.

Darwin's moth and its absurdly long proboscis

Darwin’s moth and its absurdly long proboscis. Photograph: Dave Hone

Please enjoy the pictures below of the 71st Santa Barbara International Orchid show!

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Wisdom of Orchids(Part 2)


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Many orchids attract pollinators by luring insects with nectar and glue pollen.
When pollen reaches the female parts of the orchids, the plant can make new seeds.
But some orchids use their wits to develop unique, interesting and special relationships with
others for pollination. You might be amazed by the hidden wisdom that these flowering plants
exhibit in their relationship with others for pollination.

Point 1-

Orchids vs. Pollinators
Some orchid flowers look like female insects to attract bees or wasps to pollinate.
Male bees or wasps are lured by the female smell produced by orchids and try to mate with the
flower. During the act, the pollen sticks on the pollinator, which then goes off to another flower. In this
way, pollination is achieved.

Some people may think that orchids are very tricky and mischievous. My feeling is that orchids
are full of passion and enthusiasm for life. Their sole purpose is to cross-pollinate. Being tiny
and fragile, orchids use their intelligence to find unconventional ways to make sure that the
species survives. We can’t help but admire the effort they put into living on this planet.

If tiny and fragile-looking orchids can achieve their purpose with their passion, what more to
say about us, the wisest of all creatures? We too can make anything happen as long as we have a
passion for it.

Point 2

Orchids vs. Humans
Over the centuries, orchids have captivated human beings with their fragrances,
beauty and marvelous evolution. Confucius called the orchid the “King of Fragrant Plants.” Darwin wrote two
books on orchids. (Fertilisation of Orchids and The Various Contrivances by Which Orchids Are Feritlised by Insects.)
The general public is attracted by the orchid because of its beauty. They simply love these adorable flowers.

People may not be aware of the wisdom of orchids in the area of their morphology and
pollination. They are simply attracted by the orchids’ beauty and likability. Letting others love us
is not hard; we just need to present to others our sincerity and pleasantness. Apparently, orchids
are typical examples of likability in the plant kingdom.

I’m reminded of an answer a movie director gave a reporter when asked why he picked
Tom Hanks for his movies. His reply: likability. Tom Hanks is well-known and liked in the
entertainment industry. Likability plays an important role in attracting others in a relationship.

Yes, letting others love us is simple; we just need to make ourselves pleasant and likable.

Point 3-

Orchids vs. Orchids (sharing & coexisting)
Researchers have found that many different types of orchids can live next to one another because
they deposit their pollen on different parts of the same bee. One can stick it to the bee’s stomach,
while another can stick it to its legs. Orchids effectively share bees, and they can live and coexist
happily in one place. They manage to minimize pollination problems due to the decreasing
number of pollinators.

Orchids vs. Fungi (helping & coexisting)
Some orchids have fungi living on their roots to help break down the soil, so orchids are able to
access nutrients. In return, orchids provide a stable living environment for fungi to multiply.
Scientists have found that different orchid species in the same location also adapt to use different
fungal partners, so different orchid species can live side by side without competition.

Sharing and working together as a team among their own families, orchids cleverly avoid
competition. Helping other plant species, orchids create an unbelievable win-win situation.
While I was writing, I wondered: If human beings could learn how to live harmoniously and
support each other the same way orchids do, we would be able to have harmonious lives.

Many people believe that in order to move up, someone must come down. In order to get a promotion,
someone must get a demotion, or be fired. In order to make more money, someone must make
less money. We are all constantly competing against each other. To live harmoniously, we must
learn how to accept, how to share, how to be present and how to coexist and support one another.
There is enough for everyone. Let us learn from the orchids, and maybe their reality will become
ours, someday.

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