Signal Mimicry in the "Wine-Red" Floral Guild
Sources of Funding:
- NSF grant DEB-0746106: “Collaborative Research: components of floral attraction in a functionally
specialized but ecologically generalized flower guild”
- There is an unusual guild of early-spring blooming plants in southeastern North America, with
wine-red pigmented flowers that smell fermented.
- These plants are members of ancient angiosperm families (Calycanthaceae, Iliciaceae,
Annonaceae) with global distributions and fossil records, and survive in relictual populations.
- Their flowers are visited (infrequently) by small fly and beetle species more commonly
associated with rotting food, fungi or fermenting sap.
At South Carolina, Kate Goodrich’s thesis addressed the differences in floral volatile chemistry
in red-flowered (fly pollinated) vs. white flowered (beetle pollinated) pawpaws (Asimina spp.;
Annonaceae). Along with Amy Boyd and Michelle Zjhra, we expanded this project to include
Star anise (Ilicium), sweet shrub (Calycanthus) and several species of Trillium, in an NSF-funded
study of the ecology of these plants from N. Florida to Ithaca, NY.
- Why are these flowers red? Does it have anything to do with pollinator attraction?
- What is the role of fermented scent in these plants’ reproductive ecology? Does scent
chemistry mimic the odors of substances normally consumed by their pollinators?
- What alternative functions might implicate red floral pigment, including protection from
the cold, from UV damage, from fungal infection or herbivory?