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About the Author
Mark Carwardine is a zoologist, writer, photographer, consultant, and broadcaster with a special interest in marine wildlife. He has written more than forty books, including several bestsellers, and hosts Nature and a wide variety of other natural history programs on BBC Radio.
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Most devious plant
ghost orchid Epipogiurn aphllum
North and Central Europe eastward to Japan
Cheating a fungus
The natural world, as we know it is built on partnerships. But in all societies there are cheats, and plants are no exception. Most green plants would be unable to exist without the help of fungi, which provide them with food-exchange partnerships. In fact, the invasion of the land by plants—algae—was probably only made possible by these types of partnerships. It has even been suggested that early land plants developed roots just so that they could join forces with the fungal roots, or hyphae.
Most plants are real partners, giving the carbohydrates that they manufacture using their chlorophyll. Some—notably orchids—have such a close partnership that they don't even bother to produce food packages to accompany their embryos into the world, instead relying on fungi in the soil to provide the food needed for germination and early growth. This allows an orchid to produce lightweight, microscopic seeds—millions of them.
Some orchids, however, have become cheats: they use fungi that have partnerships with trees, and they never give anything in exchange. Via fungal hyphae, these orchid vampires tap into the trees, siphoning off nutrients. The giveaway is often the fact that they have stopped producing chlorophyll. As a result, they aren't green but a rather sickly pinkish cream, like the ghost orchid, or brown, like the bird's-nest orchid. Some, such as western coralroot, are bloodred or evenpurple. The drawback is that, without the fungus, the orchid will die. And one day a fungus may just evolve a way to even the score.Extreme Nature. Copyright © by Mark Carwardine. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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