Some really far out stuff goes on in flowerland. The diabolical nature of disease in the plant world can take on super bizarre sci-fi thriller-like scenarios. Fungi often act as a parasite, living off the host , but some fungal diseases actually takes over a plant’s system, and make it do what the invading fungus wants.

The purpose of any life form is to ensure the species continues. While we find humor in the lengths to which some humans and animals will go to in order reproduce, what goes on with some plant diseases that spread like the plague is downright alarming. Really makes you wonder who programmed these things. Check this out…

Killer Carnations

A twisted case of beauty gone bad infused with a big dose of psychotic plotting that tricks the whole town and the tourists into playing along. 

The fungal microbe, Microbotryum violaceum, actually swaps out the pollen in the blooms of plants in the carnation family with infectious packages. Why? So that all the pollinators will carry it to all the other related plants in the area. How? The evil microbe burrows inside the plant, locates developing pollen, destroys it, and replaces it with their disease spores.

PsuedoFlowers

Skeksis invades the plant kingdom sans the useless labyrinth in the original script but sticks with the dark crystal powers for draining essences and enslaving the victims and any hapless visitors…

Blueberry plants are attacked by a fungus known as Mummyberry, which moves in and sucks the essence from the juicy fruits, leaving pale and shriveled corpses behind. But rather than collecting victims, it has to spread out to continue on. The enslaved infected stems now produce grayish spots on the tips that make pollinators think they are flowers. The fake flowers have no petals, but they smell like flowers and ooze sweet liquid like nectar. When the pollinators land, they pick up the spores and carry them to the rest of the blueberries in the vicinity.

Stolen Identity

A script that has nothing to do with ill-gained riches, and everything to do with tricking traffic into giving IT a ride over and over again for a long time.

The wildflower, Drummonds Rockcress, might look like it repeat blooms – but it doesn’t. It grows near a type of ranunculus that is somewhat similar looking. The Rockcress actually blooms earlier than the Ranunculus, but it gets infected by a fungus that makes the Rockcress produce fake flowers along with the normal blooming of the Ranunculus. Why? To get the host of pollinators on the nearby Ranunculus colony to come spread it further afield.

Hijacked

The evil overlord takes over the ship which is suddenly crawling with micro sirens dripping with sweet goodness.

While not all smaller than normal flowers, or those that are severely lacking in nectar are psuedoflowers, some are. It’s standard behavior for weakened plants struggling to survive to produce undersized blooms, but there a several different fungal diseases that move in and force plants to act for them. These fake flowers are there to attract pollinators who are required to spread the disease for the fungus. The false flowers are covered in sticky fake nectar though, instead of it being located where it should be deep in the bloom. Insects that land get covered in the spore laden sweet stuff by the time they reach their target – the spot they know by instinct where the nectar would be. Why? Well as you are beginning to see more and more clearly, a fungi will stop at nothing to get where it wants to go!

Slave Drivers

Traffic savvy psychos take over a diner forcing the owners to stay open 24/7 without any staff rotation. Their plot is to get every penny possible stuffed into the till before the authorities catch up with them.

The same M. violaceum that attacks the carnation family also infects the wildflower commonly known as Catchfly, Lychnis, and Silene. The fungal microbes force the plant to bloom earlier than normal and stay open longer to attract a lot more pollinators to spread it’s treacherous spores. This same kind of fungal enforced behavior is seen in the Moussonia deppeana, a Mexican flowering shrub. The fungus itself is different, but it too makes the flowers remain open for two days longer than they should.

These rather alarming activities were reported in a paper, “Arranging the bouquet of disease: floral traits and the transmission of plant and animal pathogens” published this week in Ecology Letters (PubMed) by Scott McArt and colleagues of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The authors note that viral infections do make plants more floriferous. Plants, however, do have ways of fighting against sinister invasions like this. They reduce the odds of infections by producing smaller blooms with lighter than normal fragrance. The review says that this ensures that pollinators will find them and deadly microbial enemies will most likely sail on by. Hmm… but what about the pollinators who carry already collected spores?

Amber

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine
The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.