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Nature. 2005 May 5;435(7038):41-2.

Botany: specialized bird perch aids cross-pollination.

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School of Botany and Zoology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Private Bag X01, Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg 3209, South Africa.


Birds may hover over or perch on flowers when feeding on nectar, and this assists cross-pollination if they then visit other plants. Here we investigate the curious sterile inflorescence axis of the South African Cape endemic 'rat's tail' plant (Babiana ringens, Iridaceae), whose function--unlike in other bird-pollinated plants--is exclusively to provide a perch for foraging birds. We find that this structure promotes the plant's mating success by causing the malachite sunbird (Nectarinia famosa), its main pollinator, to adopt a position ideal for the cross-pollination of its unusual ground-level flowers.

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