Plantwatch: fungus creates fake fragrant flowers to fool bees
Fungi have been discovered making fake flowers that look and even smell like the real thing, fooling bees and other pollinating insects into visiting them.
The fungus Fusarium xyrophilum infects the beautiful yellow-eyed grasses of Xyris from Guyana in South America. The fungus stops the plant making its flowers and then hijacks the plant’s reproductive system to create its own forgeries made entirely of fungal tissue.
The fake flowers are a similar size and shape with petal-like features that reflect ultraviolet light to attract pollinators, especially bees. The phoney flowers even use fragrances to make themselves even more attractive.
The fraud is so convincing the bees and other pollinators visit them, expecting to get rewarded with nectar and pollen but instead become coated with fungal spores, which they unwittingly carry off to other Xyris plants and infect them.
This type of hoax is not unique but it is by far the most elaborate fungal mimicry known. The leaves of blueberries can be infected by Monilinia fungi, turning the leaves into hoax flowers that reflect ultraviolet light, give off a fragrant scent and ooze sugar to attract insects that normally pollinate the plants, but instead carry off the fungal spores.