Have you ever wondered why flowers come in such a vast array of shapes, sizes and smells? From cup-shaped to cornate, fragrant to foul, the diversity of flowers found across the world is one of nature’s most amazing achievements.
Flowering plants and pollinators co-evolved over millions of years, forming intricate relationships. Because plants are rooted in place, they can’t easily interact with other members of their species for reproduction. Instead they rely on outside factors to facilitate the process.
These factors can be biotic (animals, i.e. pollinators) or abiotic (wind & water). In the case of pollinators, flowers have developed suites of traits to attract them, known as “pollination syndromes.” These syndromes include flower type, shape, color, odor, structure and more.
Take a close look at the pollination syndromes of the next flower you come across, and you’ll likely be able to identify its pollinator. Pollen of long tube-shaped flowers, like the trumpet honeysuckle, can only be accessed by the long, thin beak of a hummingbird. Large, open flowers may be pollinated by beetles, which are less agile flyers than other insects and require landing pads. Plants that flower at night often produce a strong scent to attract nocturnal pollinators such as bats and moths.
What’s in it for the pollinators? Sweet, sweet, sweet nectar. The reward for pollinating a plant is a rich calorie-dense treat that pollinators rely on for energy. This quid pro quo between flowers and pollinators means neither can exist without the other. Should one disappear, the other may as well.
So next time you’re out in nature, remember to be like a pollinator and stop to smell the flowers.