Agasthya 6.2 Untold story of white bracts of <i>Mussaenda frondosa</i> -The Sequel
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Centre for Excellence in Conservation Science
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Way back in 1990, inspired by Dan Janzen's tales of plant-animal interactions, Ganesh and I picked any system which appeared curious and started working on it in KMTR. One such was Mussaenda frondosa a straggler found along forest edges. It had striking orange tubular flowers and a white bract (a modified or specialized leaf especially one associated with a reproductive structure) to go along with it. Of course the question was why white bracts? What followed were tireless efforts of manipulative experiments of removing bracts and comparing with control plants. Yes! the bracts did play an important role in attracting the pollinators, íthe long tongued butterflies' like the birdwings. Back at the base, we very eagerly analyzed our data but after our literature review, we found out, to utter disappointment, that the bract story had just been published in Biotropica. We shelved the idea of publishing and the data now sits in our archives. Strangely enough, after two years and a decade, when I asked the students of 'Plant-Animal Interactions Course' to review that paper, I realized that there was an unfinished story. In the earlier paper, the researchers did not connect the white bracts to higher conspicuousness in crepuscular light, which we realized during one of the night safari rides. The Mussaenda looked adorned with the bracts and appeared like a tree with Christmas balls in twilight. Then we unraveled the story with further experiments and recorded that the plant had one set of flowers which opened in the morning while another set bloomed exclusively in the evening. The pollination system appeared to maximize fertilization using a suite of long tongued visitors comprising Papilio butterflies and solitary bees during the day and the hummingbird hawkmoths during dusk and dawn. I wound up the plant-animal interaction class by highlighting how critical it is to publish when data is hot, or it would lie deep down in the cold storage. The course left me inspired to take up the old data and use it as a sequel to the previous Biotropica paper. Will there be one more story to complete a trilogy? Well, maybe. But that's for another course!



Editorial Team
Editor: Allwin Jesudasan
Associate editor: Rajkamal Goswami
Editorial Review: R. Ganesan, M. Soubadra Devy, T. Ganesh
Design and presentation: Kiran Salagame

Volume 6,  Issue 2
      April 2012

A S H O K A   T R U S T   F O R   R E S E A R C H   I N   E C O L O G Y   A N D   T H E   E N V I R O N M E N T

Untold story of white bracts of Mussaenda frondosa -The Sequel
- Soubadra Devy
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