Candlestick Plant and Insects
Date: Summer 2011
Does a candlestick plant have some sort of calming effect on yellow jackets and hornets. They seem very calm and almost lazy crawling around on the plant's stems. They do not hover over the plant. The plant is not in bloom yet. Never seen anything like this.
I am unaware of any reports of this phenomenon in the scientific literature. The Candlestick plant is a workhorse in traditional human medicine (ethnobotany), so it’s likely to have a raft of undescribed functions in nature. The behavior could be attributed to an attractive volatile (scent) evolving from the plant, like a pheromone. Evolutionarily, plants are very astute and can often coax insects to serve as bodyguards (although usually they seek to repel insects by producing built-in pesticides). On the other hand, the scent might be a borderline intoxicant on par with catnip! Alternatively, the attractiveness of the plant may be due to visual cues, although you noted that the plant had yet to flower. This would seem to endorse the olfactory theory. See if an entomologist at a local university would be willing to investigate this further. If the cause of this behavior is a plant volatile, you’d need to tease out all of the respective compounds from the plant extract and test each individually in a controlled experiment. If you can duplicate the results you initially observed, you might have yourself a commercial product.
Dr. Tim Durham
Instructor, Office of Curriculum and Instruction
Department of Biological Sciences
Florida Gulf Coast University
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Update: June 2012