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Hot Plants

November 7, 2007

An Australian plant reproduces through trickery.


Sex and the single cycad. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

When some plants reproduce, things can get pretty steamy. During the Australian springtime, male cycad plants emit an agreeable odor. This attracts tiny insects into their cones to eat pollen. But then the cones start to heat up – sometimes by as much as 25 degrees. Biologist Irene Terry of the University of Utah and her colleagues study the reproductive habits of the ancient plant.

IRENE TERRY: (University of Utah)
When the cones heat up, they also emit a large amount of a chemical and this chemical or odor gets very very strong during the heating process.

So strong, in fact, that it becomes toxic, driving the insects from the male cycad by the thousands. Nearby, the female cycad emits the same chemical, but at a lower, more pleasant concentration. This in turn attracts the pollen-covered insects to the female, resulting in pollination. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.