Cooperation is so remarkable as to seem beautiful, in that warm and fuzzy way that purring makes us feel. But what about beauty? Is it a common good, a selfless gift to others? Beauty, as the cliche has it, is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes in the nose, and other times in the ears, too. According to an article in Smithsonian a particular species of orchid might employ more than one strategy for attracting those it needs assistance from:
They trick animals into pollinating them and usually give nothing in exchange. Some orchid species mimic nectar-producing flowers to lure bees; others emit the fetid smell of rotting meat to attract carrion flies.
Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, published a book in 1976 called The Selfish Gene that would help explain the orchid’s beauty as a tool of entrapment.
But perhaps the most spectacular evidence of the plant’s powers of attraction could be seen several weeks ago in Singapore, at the 20th World Orchid Conference, a triennial affair that drew about 1,000 participants from 55 countries and more than 300,000 spectators. It was one of the largest orchid competitions in history, a colorful, heavily scented affair that showcased the growing popularity and cutting-edge science of orchid breeding.
“Orchids are such manipulators. After the birds and the bees, they have enticed us humans into doing the dirty deed for them,” joked Kiat Tan, chairman of the conference’s organizing committee.