Posted by: Lisa Mason, Arapahoe County Extension
Colorado has a wide variety of pollinators! This week on Instagram, the CSU Extension Pollinator Committee took over the Colorado Master Gardener account to showcase some of the awesome pollinator species we see in Colorado. Follow us on Instagram and learn more here.
Speaking of the wide variety of pollinators, let’s talk about pollinator syndromes.
|A bumble bee (Bombus sp.) visiting a Shangri-la sage (Salvia moorcroftiana x indica), a Plant Select plant. Photo: Deryn Davidson|
What is a Pollinator Syndrome?
In general, research has shown that plants have specific flower traits that attract pollinators, and the plants provide the pollinator with nectar and pollen rewards. These attractive traits can include flower color, odor, shape, and availability of pollen and nectar. Some plants even have nectar guides that are markings showing where the pollinator should go to collect the reward. Different traits will attract different pollinators. Why would a plant evolve with traits to attract pollinators? Because visiting pollinators will facilitate plant reproduction. This relationship benefits both the plants and the pollinators.
For example, bird pollination is called “ornithophily.” In Colorado, hummingbirds are primary bird pollinators. We know that hummingbirds generally prefer to visit flowers that are red, orange, or white. The flowers tend to be funnel-shaped, hang loosely on the plant, and have plenty of nectar deep in the flowers. For other birds around the world such as sunbirds, honeycreepers, and honeyeaters, the plants tend to have strong perch support for the bird to land. Flowers that attract birds typically do not have an odor because birds don’t need the scent to find the flowers. You might also notice that the flower petals tend to curve outward to make it easier for a hummingbird in flight to drink nectar.
|A female broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus). Note the pollen on her head. Photo: Nancy Klasky|
The USDA Forest Service compiled a chart of pollinator syndromes for the major groups of pollinators.
Darwin’s Prediction of the Long-Spurred Orchid
|Besides the spur length, note the other traits the columbines show to attract their designated pollinator. Image credit: Whittall and Hodges, 2007|
Whittall, J., Hodges, S. Pollinator shifts drive increasingly long nectar spurs in columbine flowers. Nature 447, 706–709 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05857
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