We are normally attracted to flowers because of their colour, form and overall beauty.  They enchant and intrigue human beings; however for other members of the animal kingdom they mean survival. Flowers have evolved to attract insects that carry pollen between individual flowers and allow plants to produce seeds without inbreeding.

Monarch Butterfly Photo: Heather Angel
Monarch Butterfly
Photo: Heather Angel

Most common pollinators are bees and butterflies. They harvest nectar and pollen, and at the same time fulfill the function of pollination.

Honey bee Photo: Heather Angel
Honey bee
Photo: Heather Angel

Nectar loving birds (sunbirds and white eyes) are both pollinators and predators. However, carnivorous birds are attracted to the predators camouflaged in the flowers, but do not fulfill a pollination role.

Pollination is the process by which pollen is transferred in the reproduction of plants, thereby enabling fertilization and sexual reproduction.  While bees are the better know pollinators, butterflies do their fair share.  Bees, being connected to the commercial growing of crops, are considered the most important.  They pollinate in smaller areas and are very good at what they do.   Butterflies can travel longer distances, ensuring coverage of equal amounts of flowering plant in a larger area.  Butterflies like to perch on larger flower heads when they hunt nectar, collecting pollen on their legs and body as they search for food.  The butterfly’s legs and proboscis are longer and further away from the flower’s pollen so less pollen collects on its body parts than it does on bees, but still they are very effective pollinators.  Butterflies pollinate during the day while flowers are open and they have a better colour perception than bees or even humans.  They can see red, their favourite colour, while bees cannot.  They also find their nectar by being able to see ultraviolet light which makes flower markings very distinct to them.

Nectar  Guides Photo: S.I. Garrett
Nectar Guides
Photo: S.I. Garrett

Nectar guides are markings or patterns seen in flowers of some angiosperm  species, that guide pollinators to their rewards. Rewards commonly take the form of nectar, pollen, or both, but various plants produce oil, resins,scents, or waxes. Such patterns also are known as “pollen guides” and “honey guides”.  These patterns are sometimes visible to humans; for instance, Linaria genistifolia has yellow flowers with orange nectar guides. However, in some plants, such as sunflowers, they are visible only when viewed in ultraviolet light.Under ultraviolet, the flowers have a darker center, where the nectaries are located, and often specific patterns upon the petals as well. This is believed to make the flowers more attractive to pollinators such as honey bees and other insects that can see ultraviolet.

Birds and bats  looking for nectar help plants to reproduce.  More than 90 percent of all plants need a pollinator to distribute pollen to set fruits and seeds.