Camouflaged Plants in South-West China Resemble Rocks

Posted on June 6, 2018

A new study by researchers from the University of Exeter and Kunming Institute of Botany has revealed a few camouflaged plants in south-west China that resemble rocks. The plants match the color and shapes of the nearby rocks and soil.

The Corydalis hemidicentra plant is pictured above and below using masquerade camouflage. The leaves of the plant match the color of rocks where it grows. Different populations of the same plant species manage to use different colored camouflage in different locations.

Dr Yang Niu, lead author of the study from the Kunming Institute of Botany, says in a statement, "These plants are a wonderful example of how camouflage can be adapted for different habitats. Different populations of this species look different in different places. We can't yet be certain about how they do this. The adaptations might happen in the long term by evolution. It seems that plants like these know how to make the right colors by mixing a few types of pigments. Those individuals with worse color matching might have higher risk of being eaten."

The researchers say plants may be limited because the chlorophyll they use is green. This may make camouflage a more costly proposition. The researchers say the following camouflage methods can be done by both plants and animals.

  1. Background matching - blending with the colors of shapes of the habitat where they live.
  2. Disruptive coloration - markings that create the appearance of false edges and boundaries, making it harder to see the true outline.
  3. Masquerade - looking like something else; usually something a predator might ignore, such a stone or twig. Examples include living stones, some cacti, passion vines and mistletoes.
  4. Decoration - accumulating material from the environment. For example, some coastal and dune plants get covered by sand because of their sticky glandular trichomes, making them less conspicuous.
A research paper on the study was published here in the journal, Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

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