Voluptuous lips might not be something you’d expect on a plant science blog*, but today’s featured plant Psychotria elata has them. This small tree native to South American forests is commonly called the Hooker’s Lips plant after the unique shape of its flowers. Check out more images in the video below.
You have to admit that these puckers would rival those of even Angelina Jolie, Jessica Rabbit, Jagger and that guy from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Why would you have a flower shaped like a pair of hooker’s lips? As indecent as it may sound, it still comes down to sex. The distinctive shape and color of Psychotria elata’s flowers are perfect for attracting their pollinators. At this point you might be wondering ‘What kind of pollinator is attracted to that?’ Well, it isn’t lonely men; it’s hummingbirds and butterflies. The bright red color draws them in and the central pore is a perfect fit for their narrow beaks and proboscis.
It’s universal to wonder, ‘But are they real?’ As in Hollywood, in the botanical world, the truth is complicated. These red smackers are real plant structures, but they aren’t really flowers. The red lips are actually bracts or modified leaves like those of Poinsettias. They hide the much smaller true flowers within. Check out some of the last images on the video above or the links below. As the inflorescence matures, the mouth eventually opens up exposing the flowers inside like a tongue or uvula.**
Unfortunately, deforestation in Psychotria elata’s native range is threatening its survival. Let’s hope we won’t have to kiss this species goodbye.
*Well, recently on the blog we’ve had gumbo, drugs, interspecies bee-flower sex and now hookers. Admittedly not my most sophisticated week. Stay classy readers!
**The flowers themselves are quite small, pretty but not particularly memorable. It would be cooler if they were more hideous such that when the ‘mouth’ opened it would look like that scene from Aliens.
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