The Vine That Is A Master Mimic

Grace Higgins | June 12th, 2019

When it comes to changing into something else or camouflaging, the world is filled with organisms that can do this. The Chameleon is, of course, the most famous one, that can alter its color and blend in with its background. And in the insect world, you will find butterflies that mimic toxic insect or sticks that are actually alive or even mantises that look like orchids.

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In the bird world, you can find the Lyrebirds that can make themselves sound like anything, even a car alarm. And even in our own human species, we find many people who can impersonate the voices of famous people. But when it comes to plants and trees, finding mimics are a little harder to locate. However, two scientists in Chile have found a species of vine that can make itself look like a host plant and even impersonate trees.

Reporting in the magazine Current Biology, Ernesto Gianoli, and Fernando Carrasco-Urra, two university researchers explained this amazing discovery. The vine Boquila trifoliolata it is called, which can be found climbing and impersonating other plants in Chile or Argentina. It seems that it just loves their temperate rain forests.

The vine typically will produce a cluster of three leaflets but every shape, size, color, and orientation of the leaves is always different, so they took a closer look at the 45 vines growing on 12 different types of trees. And that is when they noticed the vines were copying their host plant.

When the tree had a thing and pointy leaves, then so does the vine. Or if the tree’s leaves are short and stubby then so is the vine’s leaves. Only when the vine is growing alone or on a tree that did not have any leaves would it actually stick to an original form. The researchers found the master mimic skill actually pays off massively.

Vines that don’t grow on trees or camouflage themselves into their host plants are much more likely to be eaten up by small herbivores such as weevils or leaf beetles. They do not really know how the vine mimics and copies a tree, because they appear to be able to do it without even touching a tree. The vine might be picking up on chemical signals that the trees emit.

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