A Chinese Flower Has Evolved To Hide From Humans

by : Daniel Richardson on : 25 Nov 2020 12:38
Yang Niu

Evolution is an incredible thing, but plants don’t always spring to mind when people think of the process. This is perhaps what one flowering plant in China has banked on, as it has evolved to become harder for humans to find. 

Fritillaria delavayi is a flowering plant that is typically used in Chinese medicine. The plant produces a striking green flower after five years, but this seems to be changing in an attempt to achieve greater survival.


The medicinal plant has been commercially used in medications and as a result, the Fritillaria delavayi is becoming rarer. However, people who are searching for the plant may be missing it because it is turning into a darker colour to avoid detection.

plant in full colourplant in full colourYang Niu

In a study published in Current Biology by the Kunming Institute of Botany (Chinese Academy of Sciences) and the University of Exeter it was found that humans are the primary factor in the changing colour of the medicinal plant.

In a press statement, co-author of the research into the evolution of the plan Professor Martin Stevens at the University of Exeter explained:


Many plants seem to use camouflage to hide from herbivores that may eat them – but here we see camouflage evolving in response to human collectors, It’s remarkable to see how humans can have such a direct and dramatic impact on the coloration of wild organisms, not just on their survival but on their evolution itself. It’s possible that humans have driven evolution of defensive strategies in other plant species, but surprisingly little research has examined this.

Changing plantChanging plantYang Niu

The discolouration will disappoint those who enjoy seeing vibrant plants, but if it is leading to greater survival rates for the plants it may be a beneficial change. The fact that the plants appear to be darker colours in areas where they are most commonly picked seems to suggest that the adaptation is to increase survival rates against its primary threat, human pickers.

On the back of this research, it will be interesting to see if the plant world is evolving in other ways to avoid humans.


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Daniel Richardson

After graduating from university, Dan went on to work with a variety of tech startups and media outlets. Through working with the likes of Game Rant, The Hook and What Culture, Dan pursued his interests in technology. The skills he picked up along the way are now being utilised with UNILAD.

Topics: Technology, Now, Science, Tech