‘Chameleon’ Vine Looks Like Whatever Tree It Climbs
The more you adapt, the better you survive
Chameleons aren’t the only species that excel at mimicry, as biology professor Ernesto Gianoli discovered in Chile’s temperate rainforests.
The woody vine Boquila trifoliolata, Boquila for short, is a climbing plant, and has the abilities to mimic the leaves of its supporting trees, as detailed by Gianoli and his student Fernando Carrasco-Urra in their paper.
Gianoli first came across the Boquila vine when he abandoned his usual rigorous schedule of fieldwork that day and opted for a slow observational walk: he saw two different stems—one much thinner—whose leaves were the exact same, and realized while the thinner stem was actually a Boquila vine in disguise, its leaves were the same as its neighbor, National Geographic reported.
Further research shed light on just how good a mimic the vines are. They can match the nearest leaves in terms of size, shape, color, and orientation, and even grow a spiny tip when they’re next to spine-tipped leaves. And a single strand of Boquila vine can copy several different leaves as it climbs from plant to plant.
How does the vine mimic their host trees without any contact? Carrasco-Urra and Gianoli have several hypotheses. The vine might be sensing airborne chemicals released by the trees to help it choose what disguise to adopt. Or the vine might be borrowing and using genes from its host trees—which would explain why it mimics the nearest leaf, even if the leaf is not from the tree the vine is climbing on. Gianoli’s team is investigating the mysterious Boquila further.