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Adding Value To The Business of Cropping

Pollinator pulling power

Learning Intentions:

    Students will be able to:
  • identify features in flowers that might attract insects and other pollinators
  • score the flowers on their 'potential pollinator pulling power'
  • describe why flowers have evolved to attract pollinators.

Hints and tips

Flowers sometimes use patterns or lines to direct pollinators towards nectar or pollen. In the pansy, lines led them into the centre of the flower where nectar is found. If an insect follows this path it comes into contact with anthers and stigmas, thus transferring pollen from one flower to another. 

How do bees know that nectar is available in a flower?

What to do

    Examples of different shapes and forms of flowers you may choose to study.

    Having many flowers in the garden or on the farm will help pollinators to thrive throughout the growing season, and in so doing, keep them alive and available to pollinate crops. Here you will learn to assess the ones that are best for their 'pollinator pulling power'.

    The pictures above show some different shapes and forms of flowers you might encounter.

    1. On a warm day, go to a place where there are lots of flowering plants, e.g. a flower garden, park, meadow or plantings along a fence line. Above are some different shapes and forms of flowers you might encounter. They need to be ones that attract insects, not wind pollinated flowers.
    2. Choose a flowering plant and study it carefully. Fill in details on the sheet below to rank its flowers for their potential attractiveness to pollinators (their 'potential pollinator pulling power'). Repeat for several flowers.

    Flower assessment sheet pdf download (A4)

    Why do pollinators visit flowers?


    1. Which flowers seem to offer bright showy flowers to attract pollinators?
    2. Which ones seem to rely more on scent, or the reward of lots of pollen, or lots of nectar?
    3. Why is a very scented flower often not so showy?
    4. Why don't flowers develop every feature to extremes to attract pollinators, e.g. a single flower type having the biggest flowers and the most scent and the most pollen and the most nectar?
    5. Why do pollinators visit flowers? That is, what do they get out of the deal?
    6. Why do plants go to the trouble of attracting pollinators? What do they get out of the deal?

    Discussion, critiquing and research

    This flower ranking exercise shows you some of the ways flowers might attract bees and other pollinators. But think further....

    1. Do bees see things in the same way as we do? Can they see some things that we can't? Research your answers.
    2. Do pollinators smell things in the same ways we do? Research your answers.
    3. Can we be sure that all the features we ranked on the sheet are of equal importance to pollinators? Why?
    4. Based on what you have learned, what types of seeds should be in a pollinator seed mix to be sold in garden shops? 

    Going further

    Can you design another investigation or experiment to find out which types of flowers are most preferred by pollinators? (Hint: One way might be to let the pollinators decide for themselves.)

    Related resources

    Selecting 'trees for bees’

    Introduced 'trees for bees' Spotter Guide

    Native 'trees for bees' Spotter Guide

    Pollinators in New Zealand

    Trees for bees — keeping bees healthy

    Picture credits Pansy: CC0. All other flowers: Peter E. Smith, NSIL.