Friday, July 10, 2009

The Enduring Mystery of the Red Carrot Floret

Charles Darwin, and subsequent generations of botanists, have been intrigued by the single red floret that often appears in the middle of the inflorescence of a wild carrot Daucus carota. One hypothesis – that the dark floret acts as a decoy, resembling a fly and attracting further flies to mate with it, thereby improving wild carrot’s chances of pollination - has so far remained unproven, so the conclusion that Darwin came to in 1888* - ‘That the modified central flower is of no functional importance to the plant is almost certain’ still stands. But if you are a naturalist with time to spare, and are prepared to count and statistically analyse the relative numbers of flies on intact infloresceneces and those with the red floret removed, you might still prove him wrong.........
*Darwin, C. (1888) The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species, 3rd edn. John Murray, London, UK.


  1. This is fascinating. I suppose one would need to plant a whole field of wild carrots and monitor them as a control group to see if they did or didn't attract flies looking to mate. Sounds like a PhD opportunity for a very patient student. Incidently, the painter Carmichael always had a man wearing a red hat somewhere in his pictures. I wonder what Darwin would have made of that?

  2. Interesting about Carmichael, Emma, I'll have to seek his pictures out. I've seen some in the Laing but never noted the red hats..