Chinese Orchid Found to Have Sex With Itself

For one type of orchid in China, procreating is a lonely affair.

Rather than depending on insects or even the wind for pollination, scientists have discovered that the orchid Holcoglossum amesianum actually fertilizes itself, according to a report in this week's Nature.

The orchid defies gravity to twist the male part of its flower into the necessary shape to fertilize the female one, a team led by LaiQuang Huang of Tsinghua University found.

The plant does so without the help of sticky fluids or other methods used by self-pollinating plants to ensure that the pollen reaches the egg, LaiQuang reported. This makes it a new method of pollination, he said.

The team studied more than 1,900 flowers of this species, which grows on tree trunks in China's Yunnan province and flowers during the dry, windless months of February to April.

The orchid produces no scent or nectar, and the researchers did not see a single instance of pollination by an insect or by wind.

Instead, the pollen-bearing anther uncovers itself and rotates into a suitable position to insert into the stigma cavity, where fertilization takes place.

This sexual relationship is so exclusive that flowers do not even transfer pollen to other flowers on the same plant, researchers found.