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Columnea: Goldfish plant

With their vibrant red blossoms and attractive, often furry leaves, tropical representatives of the gesneriad family are popular houseplants. In their natural habitat, the bright flowers attract birds that pollinate the plant.

Some species of gesneriads only produce modest, cream-colored flowers, yet hummingbirds still regularly stop by to pollinate them. But why would that be? If you look at the leaves of this Columnea against the light, you’ll see distinct red markings, a bit like an illuminated stained-glass window. These markings attract the attention of hummingbirds, and once they’re close enough, they recognize and visit the plant’s actual flowers.

Hummingbirds don’t roam at random, but fly along predetermined nectar-collecting routes. Once they find a flower near these red spots, they add the plant to their daily route. They’ll even visit if no flower is open, since the hummingbird is focused on the marker. This behavior on the part of the hummingbird ensures that Columnea won’t be overlooked in the thick vegetation of the forest canopy.

Audio file download
Columnea: Goldfish plant (MP3, 491 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Günter Gerlach, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg

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