Beautiful Science

Orchids are among the most alluring of flowers. They captivate not only humans but also insects that sometimes try to copulate with them, mistaking them for sexy mates. But yet more beauty is hidden within - their microscopic seeds are designed to be
ST PHOTO: LIN YANGCHEN

Orchids are among the most alluring of flowers.

They captivate not only humans but also insects that sometimes try to copulate with them, mistaking them for sexy mates.

But yet more beauty is hidden within - their microscopic seeds are designed to be blown away by the wind like a cloud of dust, spreading their progeny far and wide.

The seeds shown here - colours inverted to accentuate their nuclei and cell walls - are of the orchid Eulophia graminea.

A hardy species living in most of South-east Asia and beyond, the orchid grows on the ground in many places, sometimes even on shaded grass verges in bustling Singapore.

Millions of seeds may be released when the plant's seed pods ripen and burst open, but only a very small number will grow into flowering plants.

This is because the seed will not germinate unless environmental conditions meet its exacting demands. In fact, it often even insists that a particular type of fungus be present before it puts down roots.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2016, with the headline 'Beautiful Science'. Print Edition | Subscribe