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So sorry, but marauding mollusks must be regarded as cum grano salis, taken with a grain of salt. And that, come to think of it, is a gooey way to dispense with slugs: sprinkle with salt and watch them dissolve into purple pulp

Questions We’re Often Asked: Slugs as Pollinators


By —— Bio and Archives--January 15, 2018

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Questions We're Often Asked: Slugs as Pollinators
Slugs pollinate aspidistras. The assertion dates back about a hundred years to Europe. Observers there noticed slugs around the ground-level flowers of the popular houseplant and concluded this was their mode of pollination. (Hopefully this was in a greenhouse and not a dwelling). Amongst flowering plants, this remains unique—or is it?

A September 2014 paper in the American Journal of Botany labelled it “highly controversial” while admitting to a “most unusual pollination biology” for this complicated genus. Researchers cited mollusks, crustaceans, flies, collembolans; a species from Vietnam was confirmed as being pollinated by gall midges.

This was not, however, that symbol of the Victorian middle-class, Aspidistra elatior, the ‘cast-iron-plant’ or ‘bar-room plant,’ famed for its ability to tolerate shade and abuse. If ever there was a plant tailor-made for the blackest of black thumbs A. elatior is it. Originating from Taiwan and the southern Japanese islands, it has also entered into cultivation there as baran or haran. The slow-growing plants prefer cooler parts of the house, tolerating temperatures down to -5¬∫C. The shiny, dark green leaves emerge directly from a rhizome, reaching 60cm in height. It must be kept out of direct sun or the foliage will bleach. Cream flowers with purple inside surfaces are held at ground level.

Few houseplants have been so commemorated. In 1946, George Orwell’s novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying was published. Two years later Gracie Fields sang of ‘The Biggest Aspidistra in the World.’ More recently it is said to be an insult among school children in Northern England, suggesting one who is confused or lost.

In science, although the genus was named 1822, it received little attention from botanists, being relegated to various families before ending up—for the moment—in Asperagaceae with about 100 species recognized

But are the blooms of A. elatior indeed pollinated by slugs? One source bluntly dismisses it as a ‘myth.’ This appears to be confirmed by Japanese researchers in a paper published in the journal Ecology (November 2017). Direct observation of the A. elatior‘s ecosystem has revealed that they are mainly pollinated by fungus gnats.

The discovery was made by Project Associate Professor Suetsugu Kenji (Kobe University Graduate School of Science) and Senior Researcher Sueyoshi Masahiro (Forest Zoology Group, Kyushu Research Center). The scientists compare the flowers’ appearance to mushrooms—one of the food of choice for the fungus gnats that visit them. The oddly-shaped flowers are probably a clever strategy: mimicking mushrooms in order to trick gnats into pollinating them, suggest the researchers.

So sorry, but marauding mollusks must be regarded as cum grano salis, taken with a grain of salt. And that, come to think of it, is a gooey way to dispense with slugs: sprinkle with salt and watch them dissolve into purple pulp.


Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.


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