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Fwd: Tornados and Orchids

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  • Peter Bernhardt
    Dear Colleagues: While Saint Louis escaped the cluster of 250 tornados that hit the American south a couple of days ago we may have serious problems today as
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 19, 2011
    Dear Colleagues:

    While Saint Louis escaped the cluster of 250 tornados that hit the American south a couple of days ago we may have serious problems today as violent thunderstorms will pass through the city area and suburbs over the daylight hours.  Hail stones are reported to be ping pong ball to egg sized.  I wanted to contact you now as the power could go out.  As St. Louis University is Catholic (Jesuit) we will be closed April 21-25 reopening the morning of April 26 so don't worry about a long silence.  

    The attached paper appeared on Monday in the "Proceeding of the National Academy of Science." Please forgive the title,  I could not resist the word play (my paternal grandfather had a brief career in vaudeville).  The association with the Kunming Botanical Institute (see their online site, very impressive) occurred when I was contacted by Ren Zong-Xin who was trying to finish his PhD 15 months ago and had only one more season of fieldwork.  His results were not "adding up" as the flower-insect interactions were not typical of the "mushroom mimicry" reported in the Australian helmet orchids (Corybas).  I suggested a new course of field techniques based on some recent literature.  As new data came in I suggested he coat his flies with gold and put them under the scanning electron microscope to see if they carried germinating fungal spores as well as orchid pollen.  It became clear that this orchid was "pretending to be sick" after I went to the library at the Missouri Botanical Garden and read up about how infectious fungi make nectar and special odors to lure flies onto diseased leaves to carry away their spores.  Ren's study reminded me of the famous poem by WIlliam Blake (below) but, this time, the flower exploits the "dark secret love" of the invisible worm.   

    For your information, "Science" and "Nature" refused to send our manuscript out for review.  Ren received his PhD a couple of months ago and is now working for the Kunming Institute in a new department.   Sometimes there are positive endings. 

    The Sick Rose

    BY WILLIAM BLAKE
    O Rose, thou art sick!
    The invisible worm
    That flies in the night,
    In the howling storm,

    Has found out thy bed
    Of crimson joy:
    And his dark secret love
    Does thy life destroy.

    Sincerely, Peter  





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