Exploding flower blasts birds with pollen

Dellinger et al., Current Biology (2014)

Exploding flower blasts birds with pollen

Hidden high in the mountains of Ecuador and Costa Rica is an unusual genus of flowers called Axinaea. When researchers scaled up and down steep mountain slopes to install video cameras in the trees in which these flowers grow, they caught the plants offering a sugar-packed reward to visiting birds: the bellows organ, a bulbous, brightly colored appendage high in sugar and citric acid, which is attached to the plant’s male reproductive organ, or stamen. But as soon as the bird’s beak clamped down, the bellows organ forced air from its spongy tissues into a pollen chamber inside the stamen. The pollen exploded outwards, dusting the unwitting bird’s beak or forehead. When the bird flitted to another tree, it passed on the flower’s pollen to the receptive female organs of other flowers. This is the first case of a flowering plant offering up a food reward on a reproductive organ, the researchers report online today in Current Biology. They speculate that even before it evolved its bellows function, the bulbous organ’s resemblance to fruit seeds may have fooled birds into eating it.

Posted in Biology, Plants & Animals