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1862 C. Darwin orchid pencil experiment

1862 C. Darwin orchid pencil experiment

C029/0065

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Credit

PAUL D STEWART / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY PAUL D STEWART / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption

Illustration from Charles Darwin's Orchid book, fig II, page 15, 1862, first edition, John Murray Publishers. On pages 14-16 of "On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects", Darwin describes and (here) illustrates a simple experiment. Placing a pencil into the British Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula) causes a release mechanism to eject a sticky-based pollen carrying structure (pollinia) onto the pencil. It will quickly change structure (30 seconds) and depress so that the pollen bearing sack now faces forward in a position to pollinate the next suitable orchid the pencil visits!.

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