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Jay F. Bolin, an Old Dominion University doctoral student in ecological sciences, has won a national plant images competition sponsored by the Botanical Society of America.

Bolin's winning photograph is of an exotic root parasite (Hydnora africana) in full bloom. This plant is one of the most unusual on the planet. Not only does it lack chlorophyll, and therefore is dependent on nutrition from its host plant, but also it spends all its life underground, emerging only to flower.

The winning photo was taken last winter when Bolin was doing field work in North Cape Province, South Africa.

Bolin's dissertation research focuses on the pollination biology and taxonomy of a group of parasitic plants in the family Hydnoraceae. The winning photo shows two flowers that resemble footballs, and each has an open seam revealing a bright pink interior.

The desert flowers rise from the parasite body, which attaches itself underground to the roots of a shrub and takes in all the nutrients and water that it needs to survive. The flowers emit an odor of rotting meat to attract pollinating flies and beetles.

"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," said Bolin's adviser, Lytton John Musselman, Mary Payne Hogan Professor of Botany and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences.

"The bizarre floral appearance of Hydnora africana seems almost extraterrestrial," Bolin wrote in a scientific description he provided for the competition judges. "In fact, it is finely adapted for pollination in its arid habitat."

Bolin will receive $500 for winning the Botanical Society's 2006 Conant "Botanical Images" Student Travel Award and will present findings of his research at the society's centenary meeting in California in July.

Bolin's work is part of an on-going collaborative research effort between the University of Namibia and ODU's Department of Biological Sciences. His co-adviser is Erika Maass, a faculty member at the University of Namibia.

This article was posted on: May 23, 2006

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