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The world of 3D printed flowers: Unwinding the mysteries of the Dracula Orchid

The world of 3D printed flowers: Unwinding the mysteries of the Dracula Orchid

This blog post topic may seem quite quirky at first glance, but there happens to be a world of interesting 3D-printed floral creations out there; from printed flowers with intricate designs, to orchid-replicas,printed to figure out the orchid’s secret ruse, there are a variety of fascinating 3D-printed floral endeavours out there. In this post, we seek to unravel the mysteries of the orchid plant and how it attracts its unsuspecting prey…

What’s so Interesting About Orchids, Anyway?

Orchids are a beautiful flower, popular with many across the world. But did you know that orchids are as mischievous as they are striking? Most plants release sweet odors and boast bright colours that draw in insects that pollinate them and the flowers around them. But the orchids game of attracting visitors to pollinate their sister flowers is a little more complex; orchids attract the insects of their choice by crafting the scent that replicates their foods of choice or potential mates.

The practice of how the aesthetically-pleasing orchid attracts pollinators has been a curiosity to many for years, as it can open up secrets about the natural selection process.

Researchers have long been curious about the mechanics that lay behind this mysterious rouse; why is this something that is completely unique to the orchid? How do orchids change their scents to suit their chosen pollinator? These questions were things that could never be answered by researchers before, until now. Using 3D printers, scientific researchers are getting closer than ever to figuring out exactly how orchids replicate the scents that draw in their favourite pollinators.

For many years, scientists have been puzzled by the part of the orchid that can be seen as responsible for replicating the scent and hue of their desired pollinators. Previously,  researchers have tested orchids and insects using different scents, but have not been able to test how insects respond to different visual trickery.

The Dracula Orchid

Tobias Policha, a researcher from the University of Oregon, recently undertook a study on the Dracula Orchids that mimic the scent of mushrooms that smell sweet to fruit flies. Policha wanted to discover how the intriguing-looking plants could lure in the fruit flies using their appearance; sadly, it was impossible to replicate their pretty exteriors using standard materials and practices, so Policha and his team enlisted the help of Melinda Barnadas, a 3D designer from the University of California San Diego. Barnadas was able to print of a realistic silicone replica of the Dracula Orchid.

The scientists found that the mushroom-like labellum was what attracted the flies; and both the colour and the scent of the plant had to be spot on, in order for the Dracula Orchid to attract its pollinator.

New Phytologist reported on what Policha had to say on the research topic:

‘“Dracula orchids are endemic to remote cloud forests making standard approaches challenging. The collaboration between artists and scientists allowed the use of a new technology to elucidate the multi-modal nature of communication in this system,” said Dr Tobias Policha, lead author of the article. “3D printing provided an important tool for experimental manipulation of these complex traits under extreme field conditions. Due to the potential uses that we demonstrate here, we suspect that these techniques will soon become widespread.”’

More 3D creations to discover…

The mysteries of the beautiful Dracula Orchid have been solved, with the help of 3D printing. In our next post, we will explore how more of the world of 3D printed plants - so, stay posted!

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