Separated at Birth? Orchid Lookalikes

There’s only one reason orchid flowers look so beautiful and smell so good: to attract a pollinator. Some orchids engage in mimicry, evolving to look like the pollinator they’re trying to lure. Other orchids look familiar to humans, even though there is no connection for the flower. There’s a word for the phenomenon, pareidolia.

Roll over each orchid to reveal its look-alike. See an array of beautiful orchids at the Orchid Show at the Chicago Botanic Garden, through March 13. 

Ophrys apifera, "bee orchid"Bee

Ophrys apifera

Known as the bee orchid, this species not only looks like a female bee, but it smells like one, too. Male bees land, hoping to mate, only to be fooled into transporting pollen from one flower to another.

Caleana major,  "flying duck orchid"Duck

Caleana major

Animals as large as a duck are too big to pollinate an orchid…but when the sawflies that are the right size land on the “beak” or labellum of the flower, their weight springs them downward into contact with the pollen.

Psychopsis papilio, "butterfly orchids"Atlas moth

Psychopsis papilio

Looks like a butterfly, is named for the butterfly (papilio is the Latin word), and flutters like a butterfly at the top of its long, delicate step. Yes, it’s pollinated by butterflies.

Dracula, "monkey orchid"Monkey


Orchids in the genus Dracula are called monkey orchids, but their charmingly face-like flowers are calling out to fruit fly pollinators, not to monkeys.

Brassia, "spider orchid"Spider


Spider orchids are wily—they developed the look of a spider in order to attract spider wasps as pollinators. The wasp lands on the labellum, tries to sting it, gets covered in pollen instead, and flies off to its next prey.

Peristeria elata, "dove orchid"Dove

Peristeria elata

Look deep into the center of a dove orchid to see the tiny bird with widespread wings. When a Euglossine bee lands on the flower’s hinged lip, it trips a hinge that throws the bee against the pollen-bearing column (the head of the dove). The national flower of Panama, the dove orchid is increasingly rare.

Some photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and

An Ode to OAKtober!

Did you know that pin oaks hold their anthocyanin-rich leaves through the fall? Or that the oldest oak at the Chicago Botanic Garden is a white oak that lives near the Lake Cook entrance? Download our infographic below to learn more about the popular and beautiful native oak trees we are celebrating this October and beyond.

Oaktober infographic to color

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Why Do Trees Turn Colors?

Most of us remember chlorophyll from science class, as the chemical that makes leaves green. But ask why leaves turn color in the fall, and we get vague quickly. Colder temperatures? Shorter days? True, but there’s more to the story.

PHOTO: American smoke tree (Cotinus obovatus) in fall.
American smoke tree (Cotinus obovatus) turns a brilliant yellow late in the season—after it has gone through burgundy and bright red.

A summer leaf, full of chlorophyll, looks green. But once chlorophyll production stops in fall, the colors overwhelmed by green are revealed: yellow, orange, or brown, the colors of carotenoid chemicals. 

Reds, crimsons, and purples happen when sugar is trapped in the leaves. As sugar decomposes, it creates chemicals called anthocyanins.

According to Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation, “Plant physiologists have understood the environmental factors that lead to fall color for many years. However, each of the 1,391 different taxa of trees and 2,319 taxa of shrubs here respond to these environmental signals in slightly different ways: new ‘arrivals’ join the display of fall colors on a daily basis. It’s a constantly changing tapestry of color from September to November!”

Other factors come into play too: nighttime temperatures, soil moisture, the tree’s own genetics, and, of course, the weather. A warm and dry September has meant a late start for color this year. Don’t miss a chance to see the full palette of fall color happening now at the Chicago Botanic Garden—take a fall walk or use our virtual guide: our Garden Guide app

Check out our infographic below for the full fall story in living color.

Fall color infographic: the chemicals in leave which make them turn different colors.

Want to share our infographic? Download a print version here.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and