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Lotus japonicus and Lotus berthelotii

Lotus japonicus and Lotus berthelotii

Connor's been gathering entries for a new series on BPotD, and it starts today. Connor writes:

Research Week has officially begun at UBC. This year's Research Week is particularly special as it marks UBC's 100th anniversary. Events are taking place from March 4-15 that celebrate the research conducted by all of UBC's faculties, departments, schools and partner institutions.

From March 4 to March 15, Botany Photo of the Day will feature research from the Department of Botany, the Faculty of Forestry and the Faculty of Land and Food Systems.

Dr. Quentin Cronk, a professor in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems and Director of the UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research, shares with us today his research on the evolution of bird pollination:

These two photographs show two species of the legume genus Lotus. The yellow flower is Lotus japonicus, a “model organism” for legume biology. Its genome is being sequenced to aid the study of legume biology, particularly nodulation, the process by which legumes partner with nitrogen-fixing bacteria to produce their own fertilizer (a major source of nitrogen in the best agricultural systems). In order to separate the genetic components of nodulation, many mutants have been raised. You can see a fanciful animation of how these mutants are created and screened by the "magical mutation machine". Lotus japonicus, as the name implies, comes from Japan, but there are a number of closely related species throughout temperate Eurasia, including the familiar Lotus corniculatus (“bacon and eggs”) which is widely introduced in North America (and can be seen all over the UBC campus).

The red flower is a narrow Canary Island endemic called Lotus berthelotii, sometimes grown in warmer gardens under the name “parrot vine”. It makes a low, mounded, trailing bush with grey leaves. It looks so different from Lotus japonicus because it is bird-pollinated (Lotus japonicus, like most Lotus species, is bee pollinated).

The flowers are shown side-by-side to illustrate the different pollination mechanisms (for convenience the larger Lotus berthelotii flowers are shown the same size as the Lotus jaonicus flower). Bees are attracted to the flat upright “standard” petal of the yellow flower and land on the closed wing and keel petals, which they have to open to get at the pollen. In consequence the flowers are held horizontally. In Lotus berthelotii, ground perching birds probe down into the flowers from above and therefore the flowers are held in an upright position. Bird pollinated flowers are often red, both to attract birds and to help bird flowers avoid the attentions of bees. For animals like birds, with good colour vision, red contrasts well with green foliage. However, it is camouflaged from bees, as insect eyes are insensitive to the red end of the spectrum.

Together with graduate student Isidro Ojeda, my laboratory is investigating the evolution of bird pollination in Lotus and the gene expression changes that are associated with the very different flower type. The project fits well with our interest both in the evolution and biology of island plants and also in flower development. We are collaborating with the Jardín bótanico canario Viera y Clavijo in Gran Canaria and with Arnoldo Santos Guerra of the Jardín de aclimatación de La Orotava in Tenerife.

Incidentally, one mystery we have not yet solved is how we can persuade Lotus berthelotii to flower reliably in western Canada. Whether under glass or outside it remains stubbornly vegetative. We have tried hormone treatments, light treatments, various temperature regimes, not to mention various fertilizer treatments, and yet we only get the occasional flower here in Vancouver. In the Canary Islands, the plants are covered with flowers in April and May.


Here's an image of a cultivated Lotus berthelotii. Note that this selection has a different colour than the species, which is orange-red or red (as in today's BPotD). Lotus maculatus, a related species to Lotus berthelotii that is also bird-pollinated (and also common in cultivation).

I've posted this to give you a similar “face-on” view as you do with the image of the yellow Lotus japonicus, which I think makes it a little bit easier to compare how the morphology reflects the pollination-mode. This image is in the public domain (and mislabelled Lotus berthelotii - thanks Quentin for pointing this out).

I really enjoyed today's side-by-side comparison, showing how different structures and colors evolved to best fit their pollinating needs. And of course the flowers are quite beautiful just to look at. Thanks!

Information,inspiration,and beauty to start the day. Thanks, Daniel, for your passion.
Earl Blackstock

-You mention many ways you have tried on---
-"how we can persuade Lotus berthelotii to flower reliably".
- I found during my many years in Horticultural Production that I had much success in forcing a plant to "flower while out of its natural area" simply by threatening its life. Either by with-holding necessary water just short of killing it or by allowing it to grow well beyond the size supported by an extremely small container.
- Good luck! And thanks for those great photos!

Lotus berthelotti is one of my favorite plants, but very hard to find in cultivation here in the US Midwest. I used to mailorder plants in from California, but even that source doesn't seem to have them any more.
Even when without flowers, I find the grey-green foliage lovely.

happy ioo years to ubc
from the state of florida usa

thank you for comeing to
my favorite page so i can
party with so many careing
bright people travel the world
even if by cyber space
tis a wonderment -thank you

perhaps the plant needs a rest
i would not feel like blomming
so much if i had all that done to me

What an excellent and educational idea; Research Week! I look forward to additional edifying posts. Thank you so much!

I've been enjoying your posts very much Connor. Thank you! I'm looking forward to the rest of research week.

Thank you cody. Although for this post and the proceeding Research Week posts, I only give to Daniel what faculty members have given to me. Through the process of gathering entries for this series I have been exposed to a lot of very interesting research taking place at UBC.

Thanks for the information on pollinators. Fascinating.

thanks for including my favorite plant topic -- evolution of narrow endemics.

"Lotus berthelotii ... is bird-pollinated"

Any information on which bird is the pollinator? Although some birds on the Canary Islands will take nectar from flowers (e.g. Canary Islands Chiffchaff Phylloscopus canariensis), none has any special adaptation as a dedicated pollinator in the same way as hummingbirds or sunbirds do; they are not likely to be very effective as pollinators.

overwhelming, beauty, information, just keeps us coming back for more....neat thought about which bird pollinates...if there is something in the chemistry of the pollinator? also loved the thought of 'rest'....patience....thankyou for the energy of this posting.....

In reply to Michael F. - it is true that there are now no specialized nectar feeding birds in the Canary Islands, although several generalist passerines are known to visit flowers opportunistically. However, because there are so many plant species in the Canary Islands that have a bird pollination syndrome, it has been speculated that there once occurred specialist flower-visiting birds (now extinct). Confirmation awaits the finding of fossil bird bones. Further discussion can be found in the article: Bird–flower interactions in the Macaronesian islands by Alfredo Valido, Yoko L. Dupont and Jens M. Olesen, in: Journal of Biogeography 31, 1945–1953.

Does anyone know if l. berthelotii can be invasive in USDA zone 7 or zone 8? Can the seeds or a vegetative component survive a composting process that heats medium in excess of 60 degrees centigrade?

I purchased the Lotus Bertelotii as a hanging plant at a local garden center known for their quality and variety. It is in Warren, Ohio and is a family run business. It was the only one I saw, though they may have had more for Mothers Day, as that is when they have the unbelievalble amount of baskets. Quite a few people stopped me on the way to check out, to take a closer look.I have it hanging low in my Smoke Tree, hoping it might attract hummingbirds. I frequently by unusual plants to try out. I'm hoping to winter it over in the house as I do many of my cactus plants.

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