In Peru, a Plant Genus With Remarkable Pollinator Interaction - Observation of the Week, 5/4/2021

Our Observation of the Week is this Nasa picta plant, seen in Peru by @then

A botanist at the Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research, Dr. Tilo Henning was born and raised in Berlin and describes himself as 

sort of a classical nature-lover who has caught and collected animals and plants as a child already. At the age of ten I started growing tropical plants at home and later kept different exotic pets such as poison frogs and turtles. Until this day I collect and cultivate many rare plants in vivaria in my house.

As a young adult he focused on botany and has worked on plants in the Loasaceae family since the beginning of his studies. “During my diploma and PhD studies,” he says, 

I revised many species groups in the genus Nasa and described a number of species new to science with my colleagues from Germany and Peru. I have made many field trips to the Peruvian Andes to collect plant specimens and study the complex pollination system found in this plant group.

He took the photo you see above in 2018, while on one of those trips with his colleagues from the Botanical Museum and Garden, and it’s clear he’s passionate about plants in this genus.

Nasa picta is a rather widespread species, relatively common in Northern Peru. It is definitely one of the prettiest species, although Loasaceae in general are very showy plants, at least when flowering. Nevertheless, they have received rather little attention and have often been ignored by collectors due to their very painful stinging hairs that can cause intense pain and skin irritations. The common name used by the locals is Ortiga, which is derived from the stinging nettle (Urtica) which it’s lumped together with due to the stinging nature of these completely unrelated plant groups. Their painfulness and the often remote, high Andean habitats impede the scholarly study of these interesting plants, and their intriguing pollination biology has been unraveled only very recently. 

It turns out this genus has one of the most complex systems of reward partitioning and pollinator interaction in the plant kingdom. The plants perform a rapid stamen movement to present pollen in small packages to co-adapted pollinators that are rewarded with nectar. The pollen partitioning is thereby dynamically adapted to the actual pollinator behaviour and visitation frequency. I have published some papers dealing with different aspects of this interaction in the recent past.

Tilo (above, with Nasa picta behind him) has used iNaturalist for some time to check out what people have observed in his areas of study, and tells me 

[iNaturalist] is very helpful, especially in countries with a rich biodiversity and an unsatisfactorily resolved taxonomy for many groups of organisms. I started to upload my own photos only very recently but promise to add more in the near future. Since the focus of my field trips was very narrow I will likely be able to provide a number of unique observations that are particularly important in such an endeavour.

- Tilo’s work with the Nasa genus was featured in the New York Times back in 2019! 

- And you can read the paper “Flowers anticipate revisits of pollinators by learning from previously experienced visitation intervals” by Tilo and his colleagues here. It concerns Nasa poissoniana.

Posted by tiwane tiwane, May 04, 2021 23:14



Very nice, I love this subject. Thank you for spotlighting it iNat! Great work Dr. Henning.

Posted by cesarcastillo 1 day ago (Flag)

Fantastic work Tilo !!!

Posted by danplant 1 day ago (Flag)

Loasaceae are great! They all have such unusually complicated flowers!

Posted by atronox 1 day ago (Flag)

These are really pretty up close. Working in Ecuador in and around the cloud forest we used to see these (or a closely related species) pretty often.

And yes, the stings do hurt.

Posted by earthknight 1 day ago (Flag)


Posted by erikamitchell 1 day ago (Flag)

Thanks for choosing my observation and feature the Loasaceae and some of my works! Please don´t hesitate to contact me for any questions or requests (papers, determinations, etc.).

Best Regards Tilo

Posted by then about 21 hours ago (Flag)

I love this article!

I'm curious, which is reported to be more painful: Urtica dioica or Nasa picta?

Do they contain similar chemical compounds in the stinging trichomes (histamine, acetylcholine, serotonin, tartaric acid, oxalic acid, and formic acid) ?

Thanks again for sharing this.


Posted by estebancoria about 20 hours ago (Flag)

Also, I encounter Urtica dioica quite frequently and have grown to love the plant as it contains many medicinal properties.

I wonder if Nasa picta has medicinal value to offer as well.


Posted by estebancoria about 20 hours ago (Flag)

@estebancoria Nasa species are very different in their painfulness, picta is rather average and I´d say it comparable to a typical Urtica dioica (although this is a very widespread and variable taxon as well and e.g. density of stinging hairs differs dramatically among local morphs and subspecies/varieties). For the chemical compounds check the works of my former supervisor and his colleagues at the University Bonn (Maximilian Weigend) they have published a number of very interesting studies dealing with both families (Urticaceae and Loasaceae + others).

Loasaceae (mostly Caiophora,which is closely related genus of climbing plants) are locally important in the traditional Andean medicine and in the context of spiritual rituals. There definitely are some papers about their traditional usage (check Rainer W. Bussmanns works for example).


Posted by then about 18 hours ago (Flag)

@then Excellent. Thank you for your response and recommendations! Looking forward to reading these.

Mil gracias!


Posted by estebancoria about 17 hours ago (Flag)

Wow! such an interesting plant!

Posted by milodoingstuff about 16 hours ago (Flag)

I find myself attracted more to those species that exhibit such painful defense mechanisms. Very interesting finds!

Posted by kalvaraceae about 13 hours ago (Flag)

I look forward to seeing more observations from you! Thank you!

Posted by susanhewitt about 11 hours ago (Flag)

Wow, they are beautiful! I had never heard of this family of plants until today. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

Posted by lisa_bennett about 9 hours ago (Flag)

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