Boquila trifoliata, a climber at home in the temperate rainforests of southern Chile, exhibits extraordinary leaf mimicry. It can adopt the leaf coloring, shape, and size of other plants in close proximity to it, seemingly without requiring physical contact (Fig. 1 and (Gianoli & Carrasco-Urra 2014)). This behavior is seen in no other plant. However, the underlying mechanism remains elusive. Additionally, this form of leaf mimicry has only been observed in the wild and it is unclear if B. trifoliata will maintain this behavior in a more controlled environment. We propose building a Biosensor that will monitor B. trifoliata growth under laboratory conditions to establish a mimicry model for biological experiments experiments. To this end we will design a chamber with precise humidity and temperature controls in which B. trifoliata can grow isolated or near other plants that are endemic to its natural habitat, for instance Rhaphithamnus spinosus. Our proposal is a first step in unravelling the mysterious mimicry mechanism that this brilliant shapeshifter utilizes to successfully phenocopy the diverse array of plants that grow around it. Our understanding of plant-plant communications will change dramatically if B. trifoliata can indeed sense and adapt to its environment without physical contact.
Department of Physiology, Development, and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge.