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Built-in bird perch spreads the pollen

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10:11pm, May 31, 2005

In a twist on seduction in the vegetable world, one South African plant grows a flowerless spear that lets avian pollinators perch within beak shot of the plant's flowers.

Naturalists proposed decades ago that this spear of the South African plant called the rat's tail (Babiana ringens) might work as a pollinator perch. To test the idea systematically, Bruce Anderson of the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and his colleagues closely monitored flowers in the wild, leaving some of them as they were and removing the perches from others. The only pollinator seemed to be the malachite sunbird (Nectarinia famosa).

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