Orchids’ Ability To Grow on Other Plants Independently Evolved Multiple Times

Penn State biologists have determined that orchids evolved the ability to grow on other plants at least 14 times. They studied the genetics of 610 orchid species, representing all five orchid subfamilies. Over two-thirds of orchids are epiphytes, or air plants. They’re not parasites, but grow attached to tree trunks and branches. This gives them better access to light, water, and pollinators than plants on the forest floor. These advantages are valuable enough that they made the leap from terrestrial to epiphyte. This discovery adds vital information to the orchid family tree. Biology professor Hong Ma explained “Understanding the relationships among orchid species can help us with conservation efforts, with future studies into the evolution of orchid traits, and for identifying new potential uses for orchids.”

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