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Pyschoda Seeks Cuckoo Pint

23/05/2014 11:00 BST | Updated 22/07/2014 10:59 BST

The Psychoda is a type of fly that has a penchant for the Cuckoo Pint, an Arum growing in the woods. The Cuckoo Pint has an unusual set up: the purple-coloured club (inside it's whitish flower) emits an offensive odour when ripe. That odour attracts the Psychoda which are tempted deep into the inflorescence. Once they enter the chamber at the base of the flower, the Psychoda become imprisoned; any escape from the chamber is prevented by the plant's cunning composition: radiating hairs point downwards and fill the neck of the spathe (a sheathing bract which encases the flower) effectively trapping the Psychoda inside the botanical Hotel California. To learn if they can ever check out, read on....

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The purple-coloured club inside the white flower

Photo copyright S. van Dalen

Eventually the flower is pollinated but the hapless Psychoda are not allowed to leave just yet. They must wait until the club begins to rot in order to make their escape back into the wide world. The Psychoda then set off to pollinate other Cuckoo Pint flowers destined to repeat the same process over and over again. Despite their temporary imprisonment, the Psychoda do not appear to suffer any damage - a plentiful supply of nectar within the Cuckoo Pint chamber ensures that the flies can while away the time gorging on free food. Whether or not they also descend into complete Bacchanalian depravity during their imprisonment is unknown.

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The pollinated flower showing where the flies have escaped

Photo copyright S. van Dalen

I have observed the Cuckoo Pint for several years now. This year, the flowers appeared later than usual but were pollinated faster than 2013. The pollination of the flowers occurred in June last year and the fruit ripened in August. We are still in May and the flowers have been pollinated already.

There are many lessons in the story of the Cuckoo Pint. For example, we can become ensnared in situations which we find very seductive to begin with and then discover it is quasi impossible to extricate ourselves with the same ease. What previously seemed like a good idea can turn into a living nightmare.

Just as the Psychoda are destined to seek out the Cuckoo Pint (and vice versa) human beings also follow a pre-ordained path that was long ago written in the stars. A philosopher would write a long treatise that the Psychoda IS and therefore must BE. The Greeks would describe the Psychoda as being true to themselves. The Cuckoo Pint needs the Psychoda. In a more romantic fashion one could say that neither could live without the other. And so it goes on. But human beings were given an extra card in the game of life- they can change their destiny if they so wish. A simple example of this would be the addict who willfully chooses their addiction and to the detriment of all else.

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The growing fruit

Photo copyright S. van Dalen

The Psychoda may desperately want to get out of the prison they find themselves in but to compensate for the enforced incarceration they are rewarded with plentiful food. There is always a pay off where a net gain must make up for a loss. Consider our compensation culture in the UK where we were positively encouraged under a certain earlier government to cry wolf and benefit personally from accident and injury real or imagined. Or consider the wife who prefers to stay in a miserable marriage where she at least knows where her next meal is coming from.

The Psychoda can only leave when their task is completed- i.e. pollinating the flower- but the process of decay has to begin for them to be truly free. Once the club has rotted, the flies can make a bid for freedom. Many a marriage or love affair ends the same way - the rot can take a long time to set in and then one day, the door is bashed wide open. A long litany of regrets often follows suit (although the Psychoda are probably oblivious to having any unlike their human counterparts).

The Psychoda are literally imprisoned but there is the psychological entrapment that others can suffer from. I recently met a woman who has perpetual pneumonia, which baffles her doctors. On talking to her she revealed the hurt and unhappiness that she carries around and has done all her life ever since the death of her beloved father when she was a child. Plus her many love affairs which ended badly haven't exactly helped. In Chinese Medicine, it is believed that grief is stored in the lungs; the lady's deep sorrow therefore is literally killing her. And the only thing that will help is a change in outlook and a decision to embrace life. No pill can cure her.

Their task completed, the Psychoda fly away. The Psychoda were fated to pollinate the secretive Cuckoo Pint. The luscious, ripened red fruit will soon be gone either consumed as a feast or returned into the earth. One can almost hear Shakespeare: "Men must endure their going hence, even as their coming hither: Ripeness is all." (King Lear) The cycle will start again in another 12 months, if ever. Nature reminds us mere mortals that nothing happens in this earthly life at random and everything comes to an end.

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The ripened fruit: the end

Photo copyright S. van Dalen