It was a fascination with orchids that connected the great Charles Darwin with the Auckland Museum’s own great director, Thomas Frederick Cheeseman
A Keen Observer - Thomas Cheeseman
Before Thomas Cheeseman (1846–1923) became the director of the Auckland Museum, he was already making a name for himself by studying orchids. Cheeseman sent Charles Darwin a description of the pollination of the orchid, Pterostylis alobula, which Darwin greatly admired. A different specimen Cheeseman sent to Kew Gardens, London was later named Corysanthes Cheesemanii after him, a rare honour for any orchid lover.
A Moth Predicted - Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin used orchids to help prove his theories of natural selection and evolution. Scientists today follow in Darwin’s footsteps and use orchids to learn more about how plants have evolved and adapted to live in almost every type of environment around the world.*
An orchid was the basis for one of the most famous predictions in biology, made by Charles Darwin. Observing a Madagascan orchid, Angraecum sesquipedale, that held its nectar at the bottom of a very long tube he predicted the existence of a moth with a very long tongue. The suggestion was initially scoffed at. But 20 years later, a hawkmoth (Xanthopan morgani) was found with a 30cm long tongue.
Some tropical orchids rely on the super fine sense of smell of hawkmoths for pollination. Hawkmoths seek out those orchids which give off a heavy fragrance at dusk. Once found the hawkmoths uncoil a long tonue to reach the orchid's nectar, pollinating the flower as they do so.
Famous English Biologist,
|“In my examination of Orchids, hardly any fact has so much struck me as the endless diversity of structure...for gaining the very same end, namely, the fertilisation of one flower by the pollen of another.” — Charles Darwin, On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, 1862.|
Did you know?
New Zealand is home to one of the oldest orchid fossils ever found, which grew around 21 million years ago in the South Island. It is also the only orchid fossil found in the southern hemisphere