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The cover photo and a related article in the September 2007 issue of the American Journal of Botany are the work of botanists at Old Dominion University. Jay Bolin, a doctoral student in ecological sciences, took the cover photo, which is of the flower of an exotic root parasite, and is an author of the article.

Lytton John Musselman, Mary Payne Hogan Professor of Botany and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, is Bolin's adviser and a co-author of the article. Other authors are Kushan Tennakoon, a faculty member at the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka who was a Fulbright scholar and visiting assistant professor at ODU during 2004-06, and Erika Maass, a faculty member at the University of Namibia and adjunct professor at ODU.

In the article, the researchers produce new anatomical evidence about a rare holoparasite named Hydnora triceps that is found in semiarid regions of Africa and the southern Arabian peninsula. Bolin, who also has been mentored by Maass, photographed the rare flower of the parasite in North Cape Province, South Africa. The photo won the top prize last year in a national plant images competition sponsored by the Botanical Society of America.

Anatomical observations of Hydnora triceps that the authors provide in the American Journal of Botany are "an incremental step in our understanding of morphological convergence and novelty in root holoparasites," the article states.

Bolin's dissertation research focuses on the pollination biology and taxonomy of the fascinating group of parasitic plants that includes Hydnora triceps. His photo shows two flowers that resemble footballs, each with an open seam revealing a bright pink interior. The flowers rise from the parasite body, which attaches itself to and takes nutrients from the roots of a shrub. In order to attract pollinating flies and beetles, the flowers emit an odor of rotting meat.

"One of the ways we locate the plants in this desert biome is by the intense, foul smell, because the flowers are often obscured by host foliage and difficult to see," Musselman said.

Bolin called the appearance of the flowers "bizarre" and "almost extraterrestrial," but added, "In fact, it is finely adapted for pollination in its arid habitat."

This article was posted on: September 17, 2007

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