Orchids' dazzling diversity explained

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Science  28 Aug 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6251, pp. 914
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6251.914

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With more than 25,000 species, orchids are the largest group of plants. A new family tree shows how they owe their diversity to a series of innovations that individually or jointly touched off explosions of new species. The pace of diversification rose after orchids developed a way to lump their pollen into balls called pollinia, which allowed them to exclusively rely on certain insect species for pollination. Many lineages benefited from the evolution of a kind of water-saving photosynthesis. A shift to living in trees opened up many niches, as did a move into tropical mountains such as the Andes.