If you are an X-men fan, the Boquila is to plants what Mystique is to the mutants.
Many species in the wild use different methods of camouflaging themselves for protection from predators or just to get some extra nutrients. Some of these species mimic the colors or patterns of their immediate surroundings. Some morph into different shapes.
Most of these species are animals. In fact, we have earlier covered the batfish in our extensively detailed list of amazing facts. However, Plant Mimicry is rare. And even in these cases, just like most animal species, the plant does either of the two things. It may just mimic its physical settings or mimic a maximum of two hosts.
The Boquila vine is a bit different from other plants. It is a climber that can morph its leaves to resemble its host plant or any plant in its vicinity.
So the Boquila vine can morph into anything?
It seems like it can, yes. Ernesto Gianoli, the first man to document this bizarre activity, published his first findings in 2014. That’s very recent. Hence, we don’t know a lot about Boquila because there just hasn’t been enough research.
Here’s what we know though. A Boquila vine can morph itself to resemble any nearby plant. It has the largest arsenal of possible physical changes. The Boquila vines can change their size, shape, color, orientation, leaf morphology and even vein conspicuousness. It can do all that without even needing any seemingly physical contact with the host.
In fact, this versatile species is known to mimic several hosts. Heck, in some cases, it has shown its ability to mimic more than one species simultaneously. This remarkable ability is known as Mimetic Polymorphism. It is a highly rare ability and is pretty advantageous to the species possessing it. In the animal kingdom, this kind of versatility is shown only by certain species of butterflies. And even that is not a quick plastic response but a population divergence and not phenotypic plasticity.
How does the Boquila vine change its appearance?
The jury is still out on this question. No one knows the exact mechanics of the mimicry process displayed by the Boquila vines. However, Gianoli has presented a couple of hypotheses which he believes could be involved exclusively or mutually in the process.
- Plant to plant signaling – This is a process in which plants communicate with each other by releasing certain airborne chemicals. However, the paper goes on to mention that this might not be completely plausible as this method has never shown to cause any morphological changes.
- Horizontal gene transfer – According to this process, genes can move horizontally between plant species via microbes or parasites. This method is quite unlikely too.
Gianoli, who has published several papers on plants in the Chilean rainforests, is working with his students to unravel the mysteries of this plant by testing the behavior of the plant in the presence of different hosts. They are also going to try to sequence the DNA of the plant to check if any gene transfer is taking place. Whatever information further research reveals about this plant will help us satiate our newfound curiosity to understand how it communicates or ‘observes’ its host.
Sources and further reading material
- Diversity in mimicry: paradox or paradigm?
- Leaf Mimicry in a Climbing Plant Protects against Herbivory – The main research paper
- Image Credits – Ernesto Gianoli