Pollination of Nypa fruticans (Wurmb.) in a South Florida botanic garden
When plants are removed from their native habitat, reproduction can be compromised if pollinators are absent, especially when plant-pollinator interactions are species-specific and the plant is self-incompatible. To avoid these pitfalls, botanic gardens often use hand pollination to ensure reproductive success of their living collections, an important aspect of ex-situ conservation. The nipa palm, Nypa fruticans, presents an interesting case study of pollination in a botanic garden and a plant’s ability to successfully reproduce outside its native range without assisted pollination. Nypa fruticans has been growing at Montgomery Botanical Center (MBC) in South Florida since 1984, but for years required hand pollination to produce viable fruit. A recent shift from hand pollination to unassisted pollination suggests that this palm has found an alternative to fertilize its flowers. We investigate possible pollinators and new opportunities for pollination outside the palm’s native range. Rather than the insects typically associated with N. fruticans pollination in its native range in Southeast Asia (i.e., flies and beetles), ants, specifically Paratrechina longicornis, were overwhelmingly the most abundant visitors to nipa palm inflorescences at MBC and likely represent an important pollinator or facilitator of pollination at the garden. Pollination research at botanic gardens complements in-situ field studies and provides important insights into the flexibility of pollination systems to achieve reproductive success outside a plant’s native range.
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