Spathiphyllum - A Natural Perspective on a Common Houseplant will never take peace lilies for granted again. As many of you reading this can empathize, I have up until this point only encountered these plants as sad looking additions to a dark corner of the home or office. Their ease of care has earned them the honor of living among even the least botanically inclined. Though we call them peace lilies, these plants are not lilies at all. They actually belong to the family Araceae, which makes them distant relatives of plants like Jack-in-the-pulpit.

All peace lilies belong in the genus Spathiphyllum. There are something like 40 different species that grow in tropical regions of Central and South America as well as southeastern Asia. As horticultural specimens, they aren't difficult. Modest light and the occasional watering are about all these plants need. Like all house plants though, I have wondered about how these plants behave in the wild.

During a trip to Costa Rica, I was very fortunate to observe some interesting behavior. Wild growing Spathiphyllum inflorescences have a scent. You would never know this based on the plants you find for sale at the local nursery. Like many roses, it would seem the their natural floral scent has largely been bred out of captive individuals. This scent is obviously meant to attract pollinators, however, the type of pollinators being targeted came as quite a surprise.

As I looked over a large patch of flowering Spathiphyllum, I was flabbergasted when I realized just what was visiting the spadix - Euglossine bees! Euglossine bees are collectively referred to as orchid bees ( This is because the males require specific scent compounds to attract females. They do not produce these compounds naturally. Instead, they must collect them from the flowers of orchids such as Stanhopea, Gongora, and Catasetum.

Well, as it turns out, orchid bees also collect scent from the spadix of Spathiphyllum blooms! The whole while I was watching this group of plants, multiple Euglossine bees paid a visit. What was most exciting is that many of the bees had orchid pollinia stuck to their backs. This was evolutionary ecology in progress and I was witnessing it first hand!

Its a real shame that we have altered captive Spathiphyllum in such a way that they do not produce scent. The smell is heavenly to say the least.

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