A hummingbird lands on the perch of a feeder. Scientists say a plant in South Africa has evolved a perch of its own to attract birds to pollinate it. File photo | Photo Credit: Michael Conroy
Researchers claim to have found that a flowering plant in South Africa entices birds to pollinate it by giving them a place to perch.
A team at the University of Toronto says that the vertical, branchless stem of the South African plant, locally called the Rat’s Tail, has evolved to encourage pollinating birds to visit its flowers.
The birds hang upside down from this perch and fertilise the plant when they thrust their beaks into the red flowers to drink nectar, the ‘Annals of Botany’ journal reported.
Plants go to great lengths to attract animals to pollinate them; they seduce insects, birds and small mammals with colourful, shapely, sweet-smelling flowers. Some plants even wave at passing pollinators.
On first seeing the deep red, long-tubular flowers of Babiana ringens in 2003, the team, led by botanist Spencer Barrett, says he suspected he was dealing with a plant that was pollinated exclusively by birds. But the position of the flowers at the base of the plant perplexed him.
The researchers wondered if the curious perch-like structure had evolved to give pollinating birds a foothold from which to feed.
Crouching among the shrubs of the Cape of South Africa, binoculars in hand, the team confirmed that the flowers were exclusively pollinated by sunbirds. “When we saw a bird visiting we were completely enchanted,” he was quoted by the ’BBC’ as saying.
“It’s a fascinating piece of work,” added plant biologist Professor Simon Hiscock from the University of Bristol.