Signal Mimicry in the "Wine-Red" Floral Guild

Sources of Funding:

  1. NSF grant DEB-0746106: “Collaborative Research: components of floral attraction in a functionally specialized but ecologically generalized flower guild”

Floral Guide

Observations

  1. There is an unusual guild of early-spring blooming plants in southeastern North America, with wine-red pigmented flowers that smell fermented.
  2. These plants are members of ancient angiosperm families (Calycanthaceae, Iliciaceae, Annonaceae) with global distributions and fossil records, and survive in relictual populations.
  3. 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.

Floral Guide

Questions

  1. Why are these flowers red? Does it have anything to do with pollinator attraction?
  2. 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?
  3. What alternative functions might implicate red floral pigment, including protection from the cold, from UV damage, from fungal infection or herbivory?