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Bromeliads in bloom: Pollination

Many species of bromeliads are pollinated by hummingbirds. To make sure the birds find them in the dense, tangled foliage of the jungle canopy, bromeliads have to make themselves visible for the tiny birds. Brightly colored flowers usually aren’t enough, as they’re too small. Instead, some bromeliads have tinged certain leaves with bright reddish, contrasting colors. This advertisement for pollinators is called phyllo-flagging. The signals can be on bracts in the inflorescences or on tips of the leaf rosettes, which direct the birds to the hidden flowers in the bromeliad tank.

Bromeliad inflorescences typically have many individual flowers, but only a few open each day. In this way, a single plant can bloom for several weeks. This provides the hummingbirds with a reliable source of nectar, causing them to make regular stops at a given plant. Biologists call this behaviour trap-lining. In turn, the regular visit of the hummingbirds guarantees a reliable pollination of the bromeliad’s flowers.

Though nectar-sipping, pollinating birds are quite small – the smallest hummingbird weighs just one gram! Nevertheless they’re considerably larger than most insects. Thus, flowers that seek to attract birds produce large quantities of liquid nectar, which hummingbirds extract with their brush-like tongues.

Audio file download
Bromeliads in bloom: Pollination (MP3, 651 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Andreas Gröger, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg

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