Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Visit to Potaltik

Last Sunday, we enjoyed a visit to Potaltik, a large garden/nature reserve on the outskirts of Comitan, Chiapas, not far from the border with Guatemala. It was not the best season for viewing flowers as the garden was in a quiet period, but I look forward to another visit in a few months when the plants are blossoming. The owners of the garden, Ceci and Jorge, are especially interested in orchids and bromeliads, and they are dedicated to preserving and promoting these plants more than anything else.

Jorge is proud of his garden, gave us a tour and told us about the orchids. I'd come across the orchid/wasp mimickry in A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari. They use this example of the orchid relying on the wasp, (or with other varieties, other insects and spiders etc) to illustrate their key notions of rhizome and territorialization. (Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal) An interesting read but apparently these authors don't nearly do justice to the bizarre complexity of orchid sexuality. I learned from Jorge that orchids can't reproduce without the presence of a certain fungus, and wikipedia backs him up. The orchid's parasitism on the fungi is critical to germination.

It's important to note, that unlike the honey bee, the wasp doesn't feed off the orchid. His attraction is purely sexual, and it is often the case that the visiting wasp will actually ejaculate into the orchid. He'll be fooled again by another orchid and spread pollen in the attempt to find a true female wasp. Another parasitic relationship.

Despite all the fuss and bother, human sexuality is a surprisingly simple affair. Typically, a male and female of the same species get together and they produce offspring.

Orchid sexuality is anything but simple. Life on earth is divided into kingdoms. For those of us without microscopes, there are three kingdoms: plants, animals and fungi. What's significant to me about the orchid's sexuality is that it involves a collaboration spread across three taxonomic kingdoms. I wonder if there is any other living thing, so beautiful and close to us, that enjoys a sexuality so heterogeneous, wide-ranging and dispersed.

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