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The Garden Scoop

A Primer on Pollinators, Part 3 - Pollination Syndromes

While words like phalaenophily and psychophily might sound like terms only found in a medical dictionary, pollinator syndromes are actually used to assign certain characterisitics to different flowers.

According to the Pollinator Partnership, pollinator syndromes "describe flower characteristics, or traits, that may appeal to a particular type of pollinator. Such characteristics can be used to predict the type of pollinator that will aid the flower in successful reproduction."

Let's take a look at some of these fascinating pollination syndromes:

Bee Pollination (melittophily)

When asked to picture a bee most people automatically think of the honeybee, but there is actually a great diversity of bees that have many different characteristics. Bee-pollinated flowers are just as diverse. They are generally in the yellow or blue color family and have a pleasant odor. The pollen is usually heavy and fairly sticky so that it can stay attached as the bees move between flowers.

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Butterfly Pollination (psychophily)

Butterfly-pollinated flowers usually have quite flashy flowers in colors like pink and purple. These flowers don't have the amount of pollen that bee-attracting flowers do, but they have large supplies of nectar to feed the butterflies. The nectar is normally found at the end of a narrow tube that the butterfly can reach with its long, tongue-like proboscis.

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Moth Pollination (phalaenophily)

Moth-pollinated flowers tend to be much less colorful than others, usually pale purple, pink, or white. They usually only open at night and emit a strong, sweet scent to attract the moths. Like butterflies, moths are after the large supply of nectar in the flower.

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Fly Pollination (myophily)

Flies are very important pollinators in parts of the world where other insect groups are not as well represented. These flowers are unique in that they produce a strong, sometimes putrid odor to attract the flies. They tend to be rather flat and shallow, and are usually dark brown or purple.

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Bird Pollination (ornithophily)

To most of us, hummingbirds are probably the most familiar pollinating birds. Bird-pollinated flowers usually have large reserves of nectar that the birds are after. They are usually found with bright orange or red coloring and have large, flashy, funnel-shaped flowers that allow the hummingbird to access the nectar with their long beaks.

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There are also pollination syndromes for bat pollination (chiropterophily), beetle pollination (cantharophily), and even abiotic syndromes for wind and water pollination (anemophily and hydrophily).

It is important to note that just because a flower has all of the characteristics of a certain syndrome; it doesn't mean that it can only be pollinated by one specific type of animal. For example, a single type of flower may be pollinated by both bees and butterflies. The syndromes are just as an easier way to predict what pollinators a flower may attract.

So, now I have a challenge for you. Next time you are out working in your garden or perusing the aisles at your local garden center, take a minute to look at the flowers through a new lens. Examine the shape, size, and color. Try to predict what types of pollinators it may attract. You will begin to see things you had never noticed before and might just learn something new!