On April 12th, 2015 we learned about

A shrub that sparkles, just not in the sun

The shrub Ephedra foeminea has existed since the Mesozoic era, and yet until recently we weren’t even sure how it reproduced. In fact, we’re still figuring out the details, but we now know that it has a very particular pollination period, slightly reminiscent of a werewolf.

Not much of a looker by day

The ungainly shrub is found around the Mediterranean, and produces no alluring scent or dazzling flowers. Instead it makes slightly dull, red cones, but these weren’t seen to be attracting much interest from local pollinators. It was somehow getting the job done, but scientists like Catarina Rydin and Kristina Bolinder from the University of Stockholm, could never actually catch it in the act despite many visits to the Greek coast.

Dazzling droplets by moonlight

The answer, it was the particular combination the full moon in July. Under the full moon, the cones produce pollination drops— single drops of pollen rich dew that sparkle in the light of the moon at night. These midnight-disco lights can then draw the attention of crepuscular or nocturnal pollinators, like moths, some bees and possibly even bats. And this dependence on good lighting conditions may also explain why E. foeminea grew mostly away from towns, where the light pollution may have disrupted the spotlight the plant wanted on nights with a clear, full moon.

But why only full-moons, and not half-moons? Why is the plant so picky? Perhaps it only wants to go to the trouble when there will be the longest amount of moonlight in one night, in order to save resources. It’s only clear that the timing is important, as the plant will both withhold droplets in mature cones until a full moon, as well as force immature cones to produce droplets early. That degree of precision indicates that the plant may have some internal light-sensitivity, although that remains to be seen.

Source: Shrub Attracts Pollinators By Glittering Under the Full Moon by Ed Yong, Not Exactly Rocket Science

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