Happy birthday, Charles Darwin!


Today, 200 years ago, Charles Darwin was born – his vivid interest in varieties of animals and plants has led him to the insights of evolution: Species are not created once and forever but are rather the result of a process, which is partly still continuing. Especially the relatively young family of orchids is still in the midst of its development, and nature is trying to go new ways. One of them are colour variations like white orchids.

In his book about “The various contrivances by which orchids are fertilised by insects” (1862, 2. Auflage 1877), Darwin studied the structure of orchid flowers in relation to their pollinators. About Platanthera chlorantha (which he called Habenaria chlorantha) he wrote, that they are pollinated by moths – due to their long spur filled with nectar and an intense scent at night: “The remarkable length of the nectary, containing much nectar, the white colour of the conspicuous flower, and the strong sweet odour emitted at night, all show that this plant depends for it fertilisation on the larger nocturnal Lepidoptera.”(p.85). In a famous forecast Darwin estimated that there must be a pollinator in Madagascar matching the orchid Angraecum sesquipedale which has a spur with a length of 25 cm: “In Madagascar there must be moths with probosces capable of extension to a length of between ten and eleven inches!” (p. 198). In 1903, 41 years later, the appropriate butterfly was found, Xanthopan morgani.

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