The Physics of Pretty Flowers

We know that flowers love bees and bees love flowers. But their relationship, like with dogs and people, is complicated and involves interaction from both sides. Dogs evolved to read our expressions and communicate via barking. They’ve also evolved an extra eyebrow muscle to pull off the “puppy-dog eyes” and manipulate people.

bees and flowers

Bees and Flowers

Flowers have evolved all sorts of physical features and properties to guide and attract bees. But did you know that flowers also evolved parts to discourage non-pollinators? A review in The Phytologist looks at all the different studies on the physics of flowers to conclude that attraction of bees to flowers is not only chemical and biological, but physical as well.

Cell Shape

Ever wonder why flowers are glittery? It’s actually due to the shape of their cells! A mutation that causes flowers to look dull has nothing to do with the pigment production, but cell shape. These mutated (and sad) flowers aren’t vibrant and sparkly because their cells are flat. A normal flower has cone shaped cells to scatter light more.

Grip and Friction

These cone-shaped cells on flowers also help bees grip better as they land and suck up nectar. However, flowers don’t just attract bees, they can also attract unwanted thieves. When subjected to the pressure of having nectar stolen by birds and other insects, flower cells start to become flatter. Only the parts where bees land maintain cone-shaped cells.

Pollen Transfer

Yes, this matters. The tube that animals need to suck nectar out (called the nectar spur) is angled in a way that dabs the animal in a certain place on their body with pollen. This ensures that the pollen is received by the correct species of plant. If the pollen is randomly picked up by the animal, it increases the chance of being randomly deposited on other species. The results? Less effective reproduction.

Electrostatic Charges

As bees fly around, they become positively charged due to all the rubbing with the air molecules. Flowers are negatively charged. Not only does this help the pollen stick to the bee, it also allows the bee to sense where the flower is. What’s even cooler is that the flower’s electrostatic charge changes after a bee has visited. And this change lasts up to a few minutes. Why is that? We’re not sure, but scientists think that this could be a way for flowers to signal to pollinators that there had been a recent visitor.

Bees and Flowers Evolving Together

Bees and flowers are just one of the many examples of living organisms evolving together. My personal favorite is still the dog and the human. What’s yours? Leave your co-evolution example below!