Bee’s-eye View of Fluorescent Flower

September 15, 2005

Some brightly coloured but night-blooming flowers might use fluorescence to attract pollinators, according to research reported in the 09/15/05 Nature. Fluorescence is a rarely deployed communication signal, so far recorded only in budgerigars and possibly mantis shrimp, and was not thought to be used by plants until now.

Francisco García-Carmona and colleagues extracted and purified the pigments of Mirabilis jalapa flowers. They found that the fluorescence emitted by one pigment, a yellow betaxanthin, is absorbed by another pigment, a violet betacyanin, to create a contrasting green fluorescent pattern on the flower petals. Bees and bats, which are sensitive to green light, might consequently be drawn to these flowers.

This work opens up new possibilities for pollinator perception, as fluorescence has not previously been considered a potential signal in flowers.

Abstract © 2005 Nature

“Floral fluorescence effect,” Fernando Gandía-Herrero, Francisco García-Carmona, Josefa Escribano, Nature, September 15, 2005

Francisco García-Carmona, Universidad de Murcia, Murcia, Spain