Passiflora colinvauxii, butterflies, and evolution

mark4321_gwJanuary 15, 2010

A few months ago I posted the remarkable (19 day growth) of P. colinvauxii from cuttings:

The plant has grown quite a bit since that time. It was outside at first, now inside for the winter.

In person it's clear that the positioning and the shape of the leaves resembles a cloud of butterflies in flight; I'm not sure if this comes through in a photo (click on it for a more manageable size). Presumably when the plant blooms, it resembles butterflies surrounding some flowers. The idea would then be to attract the pollinator (a bee?, Myles Irvine's site suggests and shows a photo) to the plant.

Here's a link to Myles' pages on this plant:

If you look at the photo on that first page you'll see a flower with nearby leaves displaying egg mimicry. The pattern of spots tells butterflies not to lay eggs on those leaves. I really need to see photos of the whole plant in bloom, but another page on Myles' site says there can be 4 different types of leaves on a given plant. I'm looking forward to seeing which leaves the plant is directing butterflies not to lay eggs on relative to the flower position, as well as decipher what the other patterns on the leaves might mean. Presumably some leaves are OK for the butterflies to eat. Hopefully it will bloom soon.

My biggest question is why is the plant attracting butterflies if it is indeed pollinated by bees?

What I find very cool is that this plant, which is likely a beautiful example of coevolution involving butterflies and a Passiflora (and also perhaps bees if they are the pollinator), is in fact from the Galapagos, where Darwin got much of his inspiration.

Here is a link that might be useful: Myles Irvine's pages on P. colinvauxii

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jkrup44(9B FL)

Wow, intriguing thoughts! I never really considered the butterfly shaped leaves. It makes sense that the plants that excel in attracting pollinators will reproduce more, and over large spans of time will evolve in this direction. Perhaps bees are instinctively drawn to flowers that appear to be surrounded by butterflies. Maybe this signals to the bee that there is some good pollen to be found there - just a guess. It sure is fun to think about. What an interesting topic!

    Bookmark   January 15, 2010 at 6:27PM
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Hi Josh,

I think you may be right and I also think the butterflies could tie in in an additional crucial way. Leaves should certainly be a food source for some butterfly, yet distribution of leaf patterns suggests that at least some leaves are disfavored for egg laying. Let's say others are actually favored. Butterflies lay eggs on certain leaves. Birds come to eat the worms and find they have eaten poison. Perhaps the plant provides an antidote and the bird "instinctively" knows to where to find it. The obvious place to put it is in the fruit. Seeds are dispersed and the cycle starts over again.

Do I remember that you are growing this plant outside in FL? If so did it survive your cold??

    Bookmark   January 16, 2010 at 5:03PM
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jkrup44(9B FL)

Randy, I was growing P. colinvauxii outside and, for a while it was doing quite well. Unfortunately it appears it did not survive our recent cold snap. Also, I did not take cuttings before I lost it too. It isn't the only loss either. My P. trifasciata (which I really loved) looks like it died too.

Interesting thoughts on leaf patterns and butterfly eggs. Perhaps the butterflies favor some leaves because they are such as good food source, or maybe the eggs and/or caterpillars are less likely to be eaten on certain leaves. The pictures on Myles' site really do show spots on the leaves that look just like butterfly eggs.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2010 at 11:49AM
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Hi All
Many thanks for your interest in this rare and threatened species. I was lucky enough to meet Dr Paul Colinvaux, who found it on the Galapagos, a few years back.
The bees just focus on the flowers - as well as looking for flower type shapes they have an acute sense of smell - P. colinvauxii releases an intense honeysuckle like pefume.
Butterflies do on occasion drink nectar from Passiflora flowers but their principle interest is in finding somewhere to lay their eggs. Passiflora are popular as they can regrow so quickly despite the caterpillars eating them. Butterflies have remarkable eyesight and they have a template as to whatever leaf shape they are looking for. Some Passiflora are thought to vary their leaf shape to try to put the butterflies off as well as becoming toxic when eaten and try to stop them recognising the plant as suitable. Also of course the yellow spots look like eggs - the caterpillars will eat both eggs and other caterpillars hatching out later so again that will put butterflies off. It is aremakable battle -see link below and Passiflora defences link from there.

Here is a link that might be useful: Passiflora butterflies

    Bookmark   January 18, 2010 at 1:04PM
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