The baobab and the moth

Tuesday, July 31, 2012



Adansonia za flower, pollinated by a hawkmoth

It’s hard to understand how the flowers of two baobab trees could be so different, yet the white flowers of Adansonia digitata look (and smell) nothing like the solitary flowers of Adansonia za, which are quite a beautiful yellow with red on the interior of the petals. The A. za is flowering now just across the tram path from the Madagascar spiny forest exhibit, and even those on the ground are sweet smelling. Flowers resemble those of Pseudobombax and Pachira species (also in the Malvaceae family). The African baobab by the Gate House flowered last month and its flowers, which hang upside down, are not pleasant to sniff. Flowers

Adansonia digitata flower.

of Adansonia za are pollinated by hawkmoths, while bats and bush babies pollinate flowers of the A. digitata. (Hawkmoths also pollinate orchids in Madagascar, such as the Angreacum sesquipedale, and the ghost orchid in the Everglades, Dendrophylax lindenii.)

Coincidentally, just this past weekend, the Miami-Dade and Broward chapters of the North American Butterfly Association met in Davie to talk moths. Dr. Michelle DaCosta with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry, amazed butterfly lovers with a program on the different groups of moths, including one that has aquatic larvae and another that drinks blood. Outnumbering butterflies 10 or 15 to 1, moths are more important pollinators than butterflies. Elane Nuehring, head of the Miami Blue chapter of NABA, suggested we think about the possibility of growing moth gardens. Moth-pollinated flowers usually open at night (although there are day-flying moths) and give out a sweet perfume. Think of night-blooming jasmine, Brunfelsia nitida, daturas or angel’s trumpets and yuccas. As for their host plants, some native and butterfly gardens already contain such familiar shrubs as firebush (host to the Pluto Sphinx moth.)