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Research from the University of Otago in New Zealand helped to solve a botanical mystery most folks on this side of the Pacific might not know. Namely, this research solved the mystery of why so many plants on New Zealand's otherwise bleak subantarctic islands developed deeply colored flowers and large, thick, and hairy leaves. 

These so-called "megaherbs" are quite unique compared to the rest of the islands' flora, which is typically comprised of small, wind-pollinated plants with equally small, pale flowers. These megaherbs also stand out from their peers in being insect-pollinated. 
A megaherb community on Campbell Island
Researchers selected six species of megaherbs from uninhabited Campbell Island for thermal imaging. They found that leaf and flower temperatures of all six species were considerably higher than their surroundings. These species are able to rapidly generate heat in a process known as thermogenesis. This heat is is then trapped underneath their large, thick leaves, creating a sort of miniature greenhouse effect which helps to draw in insect pollinators seeking reprieve from the islands' otherwise cold climates. The richly pigmented flowers are also able to more efficiently capture the intermittent sunshine they experience between the predominantly cool and cloudy conditions in which they grow. So both leaves and flowers contribute to the photosynthetic capacity which benefits these plants.

These unique adaptations mirror those of tropical alpine plants, which face similar growing conditions, particularly at night. 

The findings appear in the journal Polar Research.
Story Source: reprinted from materials provided by University of Otago.


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