The Partnership and the Swindle

Just outside the front door is a Strelitzia regina, with banana-like leaves and complex orange-and-blue flowers. Often quoted as a perfectly adapted partnership between plant and bird, it actually demonstrates that skullduggery in business is not just human.

The sunbird recognises an opportunity from afar, its visual pigments being specially tuned to orange and red. Experience has shown it that the orange petals promise nectar that will be found in a deep cup somewhere in the middle of the flower. This flower even has a strategically placed landing platform – the blue spike – in exactly the right place. As the bird lands, its weight bends the spike, opening a central crack. Inside the crack is white pollen that sticks to the bird’s belly as it leans forward into the nectar cup. It then takes the pollen away, to be delivered to the next flower, ensuring cross-pollination.

Or so the textbook says. But watch carefully. The sunbird goes to uncomfortable lengths to land anywhere except the custom-built air-strip. It scrabbles on the slippery flower stalk, reaching the nectar with difficulty. Obviously it dislikes the sticky pollen on its feathers, and is taking the nectar without fulfilling its part of the bargain. Nectar piracy is the game, and all adult sunbirds seem to do it. Pollination must rely upon juvenile birds, doing what they are supposed to, before they learn the evil ways of the world.

David Johnson

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top