Decoding a Flower’s Message

from American Scientist
July-August 2012

Texas gourd vines unfurl their large, flared blossoms in the dim hours before sunrise. Until they close at noon, their yellow petals and mild, squashy aroma attract bees that gather nectar and shuttle pollen from flower to flower. But “when you advertise [to pollinators], you advertise in an open communication network,” says chemical ecologist Ian Baldwin of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany. “You attract not just the good guys, but you also attract the bad guys.” For a Texas gourd plant (Cucurbita pepo variety texana), striped cucumber beetles (Acalymma vittatum) are among the very bad guys. They chew up pollen and petals, defecate in the flowers and transmit the dreaded bacterial wilt disease, an infection that can reduce an entire plant to a heap of collapsed tissue in mere days.

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