Drakaea glyptodon   King-in-his-carriage Endemic

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Perhaps this plant could win a prize for the least orchid-like looking orchid anywhere. The flower sits on top of a hair thin stem and is 15 or 20 cm tall. The slightest breeze sets it swaying so you need a great deal of patience as it swings in and out of focus most of the time.

The weird looking flower has evolved to attract Thynnid wasps. The male wasp is deceived both by appearance because the flower looks like the wingless female wasp on top of a grass stem and the scent which is very like that of the female wasp. The male lands what it thinks is a female wasp and attempts to fly away with it. Normally the male wasp takes the female and copulates in flight while feeding her then drops her on the ground where she lays eggs.

But this flower isn't a female and is attached to the rest of the plant's flower via a strong hinge. The male can only fly off in one direction allowed by this hinge and it bangs into the rest of the plant's reproductive apparatus containing the pollinia (sticky pollen bags). The male wasp makes several attempts to fly off before giving up and flying to another Drakaea orchid. Sooner or later one of the pollinia attaches itself to the wasp so when it eventually tires of attempts to fly off with the female, it then goes to a different plants and deposits the pollen there.

This sounds far too elaborate to be an efficient method of pollination. After all the scent and appearance only attracts one species of wasp so surely those orchids which attract many different pollinators would do better wouldn't they?

Wrong! Experiments have shown that this mechanism has evolved as a more efficient method of pollination than the case where many different pollinators can do the job and this in a country where the competition for pollinators amongst flowering plants is particularly significant.

There are several different Drakaea species (Hammer Orchids) in Western Australia and this one is commonest growing throughout the far south west, around Albany, Margaret River and up to and beyond Perth and with pockets around Esperance.

Drakaea glyptodon

Drakaea glyptodon King-in-his-carriage

Roadside, Shalem stop, near Lake Muir, Western Australia 10th October 2015

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Drakaea glyptodon King-in-his-carriage

Roadside, Shalem stop, near Lake Muir, Western Australia 10th October 2015

Added on 12th March 2016

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