Adjusting the lights…

Well, well. It seems I’m not the only one caught up in the breathless debate over whether orchids are parasites, or not. Malaysia’s The Star Online has printed another article on the subject, this time by the biologist quoted in the original article (see my post of September 7th):

I REFER to the article Petals with a purpose (StarTwo, Sept 7), which contains factual errors and misquotes that have put me in a bad light with the scientific community and will seriously compromise my professional reputation. The article on this page addresses the issue.”

Whoa, heavy stuff. As you can see, orchid people take this kind of thing very seriously. You wouldn’t believe the kind of obscure minutiae that turns into full-blown flame wars on discussion lists….

“Plant-fungus relationships, known as mycorrhiza, are nothing unusual in nature, and a wide number of plants rely on such partnerships to survive under the harsh rules of nature. So do orchids, and their mycorrhiza help them to survive in extreme conditions where other plants do not thrive.  

Most mycorrhizal associations are mutualistic, that is, both partners derive a benefit from the relationship. The role of the fungus includes increasing the absorption area in the soil surrounding the plant root, and/or providing the plant with minerals and other nutrients that it needs but can only partially or not at all obtain by itself. The plant in turn will provide the fungus with carbonaceous matter (e.g. sugars, starch) that the fungus will use as a source of its own nutrition. 

In orchids, however, the plant-fungus relationship takes on a distinctly parasitic character with the fungus not deriving any apparent benefit from the relationship.”

Read on if you must know more…