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This plant literally evolved to avoid humans

Can you spot it in this picture?

Yang Niu

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Some plants evolve pungent flowers to attract pollinators, or sticky traps to attract prey, or poisonous leaves to defend themselves against predators.

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But one species of plants have evolved to be invisible to humans, according to a new paper in Current Biology.

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Scientists found that the plant Fritillaria delavayi, which humans use for medicinal purposes, has adapted to blend in with its rock-covered surroundings — seemingly to trick human harvesters.

Fritillaria delavayi is a perennial herb growing on the rocky slopes of China’s Hengduan mountains.

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Humans have spent the last 2,000 years harvesting the plant’s bulb to use in medicine.

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Some individuals grow a greyish brown color...

Yang Niu

...and some grow bright green.

Yang Niu

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When studying the evolution of the plant’s camouflage, the researchers realized that herbivorous animals couldn’t explain why the plant had tried to blend in.

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So they considered a different driver of evolution: Humans.

The team studied the plant’s ability to blend into its environment and surveyed local people who harvested the plant.

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Yang Niu

It turns out the herb grows a greyish brown color to match the surrounding rocks of its habitat in places where harvesting is more frequent.

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"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,” coauthor Martin Stevens of the University of Exeter says in a statement.

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"It's possible that humans have driven evolution of defensive strategies in other plant species, but surprisingly little research has examined this,” he continues.

Read more science and nature stories here.

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