Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Plants lure pollinators using wide variety of provocative presentations



Phyllis Webster earned a degree in journalism before embarking on a long career in public relations and marketing. A Granbury resident since 1998, she has been deeply involved in the community. She is an award-winning writer and photographer, as well as a Master Gardener. She has authored Garden Patch since 2001.

When it comes to reproduction, some plants are devious. They dress provocatively, make promises and offer rewards! The survival of their species depends on luring pollinators, which is why they produce colorful flowers and provide pollen and nectar as attractants. Pollination is the act of transferring pollen grains from the male to the female flower parts. When bees and other insects visit plants, they spread pollen, helping plants to reproduce.

Flowering plants use color, scent, ultraviolet light patterns and nectar guides to draw pollinators such as bees and butterflies. What’s more, various flower shapes attract specific pollinators. For example, hummingbirds have longer mouthparts, which makes them well suited to obtain sweet nectar from tubular flowers. And daisies, which have shallow-shaped flowers, attract creatures with shorter mouthparts, such as bees and flies.

Many plants have flowers that “dress for success” using various visual cues to invite pollinators. These cues include flower size, color and showy sepals or petals with obvious coloration and patterns. Red or yellow flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Bees are particularly fond of petal textures and markings. Some flowers have nectar guides (patterns) that direct specific pollinators to their rewards — sweet nectar and pollen.

In many bee-pollinated flowers, there is a region of low ultraviolet reflectance near the center of each petal. The UV patterns are invisible to humans, but bees can detect them. The contrasting UV pattern helps bees to locate the flower center. Bees also like blue flowers because they see them in the ultraviolet range.

Flower shape and size also provides structure, which allows specific pollinators to contact flower anthers and stigmas. For example, beetle pollinated flowers have larger, more open flowers that provide an easy landing pad since beetles are not as agile in flight as other flying insects. Also, any non-hovering pollinator requires a landing pad on the flower so it can rest or feed and contact the flower’s pollen.

Other plant tricksters include Turk’s cap and night bloomers. Turk’s cap sports uniquely shaped pendant flowers designed to be accessed and pollinated by butterflies. White and pale-colored flowers are more easily seen by bats and moths that are active at night. Nocturnal flowers are often fragrant and produce copious nectar to attract pollinators.

Several plants have evolved to use hummingbirds as their primary pollinators. Their flowers share many characteristics. Warm reds, yellows and oranges make the plants easier for the birds to see. Flowers also tend to be scentless or mildly scented. (Scented plants draw more insects.) The most distinctive characteristic of a hummingbird pollinated flower is its shape – long, narrow tubes that allow a hummer to force its long beak inside and brush its head or body against the flower’s reproductive organs.

Gardeners help pollinators by growing flowering plants that bloom at different times of the year. To attract a large variety of pollinators, vary the plant types. Know that many hybrids such as “double flowering” plants have little to no pollen or nectar.

For answers to your horticulture questions, please call the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Hood County at 817-579-3280 or go online to visit lakegranburymastergardeners.org.

pwebsterco@gmail.com | 817-680-4849