PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock
Rachael Dupree
July 18, 2016

Perhaps we give plants too little credit for continuing the circle of life. We already know that plants grow in different shapes, sizes and color to attract various pollinators, but a new study published in the Annals of Botany shows that the seductive abilities of plants are bit more complicated than that.

Dr. Crispin Jordan, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, studied how bumblebees move through stands of wild tall larkspur in Alberta, Canada, according to a press release on EurekaAlert! What he found is that flowers have a clever way of coaxing the bees in to pollinate: the subtle art of flower arranging.

“They found that when the plants’ flowers were present on only one side of the stem, bees would more often fly vertically between flowers,” the press release stated. “By comparison, when a plant had flowers all around its stem, bees would be less likely to fly upwards.”

So what does this all mean to us farmers?

Well, it could help us—or, at least, the plant breeders who develop our crops—figure out ways to grow more high-yielding fruits and vegetables. If crops blossom in certain patterns, it could mean more fruits for less labor. It also gives us more insight on our bee friends’ preferred food choices.

“Plants and their flowers exist in all shapes and sizes, and our finding that the arrangement of flowers can influence how bees forage might go some way to explaining how plants, which rely on others species to spread pollen, can influence their own reproduction,” Jordan said.

The bottom line: While you might not put this info to use in your day-to-day farming activities, the intimate dance between plants and pollinators is fascinating and something to watch in wonder. There’s a whole lot more going into how we grow our food than we know!


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