Red and green flowers win out as the favourite colours of most nectar-eating birds, according to new research conducted by the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney and The University of Sydney.
The research confirmed that many red and green flowers are longer and narrower than other flowers – making them perfect for bird beaks, and not so good for small flying insects.
Australia is home to many red flowering native plants and is known for its associated variety of honeyeaters, parrots and other flower feeders, thriving on nectar as a food source.
The new findings from the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney looked closely at flower shapes, nectar, behaviour and visitation of pollinators and how they vary across closely related plant species.
Flowers are a plant’s fancy way of attracting animals to stop by, pick up some pollen and pass it on to a neighbouring plant where magic happens and seeds are made. Certain flower colours may in some cases attract birds while making flowers less obvious to insects.
Every species of flowering plant has a unique flower type that has evolved in partnership with different means to transport pollen, including insects, birds, and even wind.
Lead author Dr Trevor Wilson is an expert on the Lamiaceae or mint family which includes aromatic exotics such as basil, rosemary and lavender as well as many native Australian species.
Dr Wilson spent many hours studying the inner workings of flowers and was stunned to see how generalised some are to keep the pollinators coming.
“While I focused on the mint family for this research, many of the patterns we observed could be applied to other plant pollinator interactions,” he said.
“Most people have noticed butterflies and bees landing on flowers but there are so many other fascinating pollination stories happening in our gardens that are just too small or happen too infrequently to observe without carrying out careful and dedicated field observations”.