Blowing in the Wind: Ever wonder how a pollinating insect clings to flower petals even in the face of a stiff wind? A close look would show their feet firmly grasped by velcro like surface of conical cells (left image). Since the cells are about the same size as the tiny claws on bees’ feet, the claws slide in between the cones for a tight grip. This special doormat is only found in flower petals and nowhere else on the plant.
• University of Cambridge scientist Beverly Glover offered bees Petunias either with conical cells on their petals, or a mutant flat variety. At first, the bees showed only a slight preference for the flowers with conical cells. But when she simulated a wind by placing the flowers on a laboratory shaker (nicely covered in green tissue paper, right image), the bees clearly preferred the conical cells. Even if they had a choice of preferred color (they like the lighter Petunias better), they chose the grippy petals. This is an extraordinarily subtle interaction between a flower and pollinator!
• Why is it that some 20% of flowers (tulips, magnolias, lilies) have smooth, flat petals? Scientists speculate this may be because they are pollinated by hummingbirds or hovering insects that have no use for the sticky landing pad.
REF: Alcorn, K., Whitney, H., & Glover, B. (2012). Flower movement increases pollinator preference for flowers with better grip Functional Ecology DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2435.2012.02009.x