Specialized pollination systems are the source of some of the most compelling stories in natural history. There is something appealing to the human psyche about what seems to be a reciprocal agreement between a given plant and its dedicated pollinator: the plant attracts a pollinator and provides ample nectar and/or pollen as a reward for the pollinator’s service in moving pollen from anthers to stigmas while foraging for food. Of course, these organisms have neither signed agreements nor memos of understanding. Instead, it has merely proven to the benefit of the plant, over time, to form certain floral structures, and to produce excess pollen and/or nectar. Likewise, certain behaviors by the pollinators have proven, in the long run, beneficial to the survival of the pollinator. To put it in human terms, each is acting in its own self-interest, but together they are like pieces of a puzzle that fit together perfectly. Thus, for example, Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis, the 1991 VNPS WOY) is bright red, a color highly attractive to hummingbirds, the flower is zygomorphic (bilaterally symmetric), which channelizes the hummingbird’s approach to a direct, head-on orientation, from which the anthers are positioned in just the right spot to dust pollen on the face of the hummingbird as it probes deeply into the flower for a sip of nectar; a second visit to another flower will smear some of that pollen directly onto a perfectly positioned stigma. Mission accomplished!

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Publication Date

Fall 2019

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Copyright © 2019 Virginia Native Plant Society. This article first appeared in Sempervirens: The Quarterly of the Virginia Native Plant Society (Fall, 2019), 7.

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Citation Example for Article (Chicago):

Hayden, John W. "Celebrating NJ Tea’s Unspecialized Pollination." Sempervirens: The Quarterly of the Virginia Native Plant Society (Fall, 2019): 7.

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