Presence, distribution and effect of white, pink and purple morphs on pollination in the orchid Orchis mascula

  • Bertrand Schatz CEFE (Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive), UMR 5175 CNRS, Montpellier
  • Roxane Delle-Vedove Laboratoire de Génétique et Evolution des Populations Végétales (GEPV), UMR CNRS 8198, Université de Lille, Sciences et Technologies, 59655 Villeneuve d'Ascq, France
  • Laurent Dormont CEFE (Centre d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive), UMR 5175 CNRS, Montpellier


How floral polymorphism of flowering plants can be maintained in evolutionary time has long intrigued ecologists and is still debated. In particular, how floral colour polymorphism influences reproductive success is still poorly understood. Here, we investigated the case of Orchis mascula, a deceptive orchid species in which the presence of rare white-flowered individuals is known to increase the percentage pollination of co-occurring coloured morphs. In a brief review, we report all the orchid species for which rare colour morphs are recorded and show that colour polymorphism occurs in most orchid genera occurring in France. In this study, more than 20,000 individuals of O. mascula were surveyed and some rare clear pink morphs were recorded. The frequencies of white-flowered and clear pink-flowered individuals were 0.59% and 0.28%, respectively. These two rare-colour flowered individuals were not randomly distributed and restricted to a few populations. In addition, the presence of pink-flowered individuals and the use of experimental pink lures resulted in an increase in the percentage pollination of surrounding purple-flowered individuals, as previously shown for white-flowered individuals and white lures. These new observations favour kin selection as the means by which floral colour polymorphism is maintained in this species. We suggest conducting comparative studies of other species in order to evaluate the importance of this mechanism in orchid pollination and that of other plant families.