Desiccation tolerance, longevity and seed-siring ability of entomophilous pollen from UK native orchid species

Ann Bot. 2014 Sep;114(3):561-9. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcu139. Epub 2014 Jul 8.


Background and aims: Pollinator-limited seed-set in some terrestrial orchids is compensated for by the presence of long-lived flowers. This study tests the hypothesis that pollen from these insect-pollinated orchids should be desiccation tolerant and relatively long lived using four closely related UK terrestrial species; Anacamptis morio, Dactylorhiza fuchsii, D. maculata and Orchis mascula.

Methods: Pollen from the four species was harvested from inflorescences and germinated in vitro, both immediately and also after drying to simulate interflower transit. Their tolerance to desiccation and short-term survival was additionally assessed after 3 d equilibration at a range of relative humidities (RHs), and related to constructed sorption isotherms (RH vs. moisture content, MC). Ageing of D. fuchsii pollen was further tested over 2 months against temperature and RH, and the resultant survival curves were subjected to probit analysis, and the distribution of pollen death in time (σ) was determined. The viability and siring ability, following artificial pollinations, were determined in D. fuchsii pollen following storage for 6 years at -20 °C.

Key results: The pollen from all four species exhibited systematic increases in germinability and desiccation tolerance as anthesis approached, and pollen from open flowers generally retained high germinability. Short-term storage revealed sensitivity to low RH, whilst optimum survival occurred at comparable RHs in all species. Similarly, estimated pollen life spans (σ) at differing temperatures were longest under the dry conditions. Despite a reduction in germination and seeds per capsule, long-term storage of D. fuchsii pollen did not impact on subsequent seed germination in vitro.

Conclusions: Substantial pollen desiccation tolerance and life span of the four entomophilous orchids reflects a resilient survival strategy in response to unpredictable pollinator visitation, and presents an alternative approach to germplasm conservation.

Keywords: Anacamptis morio; Dactylorhiza fuchsii; Dactylorhiza maculata; Orchis mascula; desiccation tolerance; entomophilous pollen; longevity; orchid pollination; pollen germination; seed-set; storage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Desiccation
  • England
  • Longevity
  • Orchidaceae / physiology*
  • Pollen / physiology*
  • Reproduction