How Flowers Get Their Color, Shape and Smell

To understand the nature and beauty of flowers, one must begin with a scientific principle known as co-evolution. Many people have revered flowers since antiquity for their beautiful colors, wide array of symmetrical shapes, and fragrant scents; however, a flower does not possess these qualities simply to appear pleasing to humans. Flowers have an intricate relationship with pollinators, such as bees, birds, bats, and even the wind. This relationship has resulted in flowers evolving with various colors, shapes, and smells that ensure their survival, as these qualities are attractive to their pollinators. To appreciate the marvel that flowers truly are, a closer look at their relationship with pollinators is required.

They say a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, and that saying is just as true in the animal kingdom as it is in the world of literature. Flowers, also known as angiosperms, rely upon their scent in order to attract pollinators. Pollinators are agents or hosts that deliver pollen from a male flower to a female flower, thereby allowing a flower to reproduce. Without pollinators, nearly 90% of the world's flowers would cease to exist. The interdependence between flora and their pollinators is crucial to the survival of flowers. The scientific community has shown that a flower's scent is used to attract specific pollinators. Additionally, science has shown that individual pollinators are lured to a flower particularly due to its specific scent, giving more evidence of the relationship between flowers and the insects, birds, and bees that pollinate them.

Like scent, flowers also rely upon their shape when attracting pollinators. While scent may be used to draw a pollinator to the flower, each flower's individual shape has evolved to allow for the pollination process. Scientists point to this as another example of co-evolution, which is how flowers and their pollinators evolved at the same time and share mutual characteristics that create a working relationship. Co-evolution comes about when two species are dependent upon one another for survival.

For example, the yucca plant is pollinated by the yucca moth. The plant's shape is such that only the yucca moth's mouth may pollinate and feed from it. The mutual relationship is so perfectly matched that science has concluded that the two species evolved simultaneously while adapting to one another. Another example of floral shapes that highlight co-evolution is the relationship between acacia trees and acacia ants. While ants do not serve as pollinators, they have a close, mutual relationship with the tree, and in exchange for receiving food, they act as defenders for the species.

Hummingbirds pollinate many plants, and one can see the effects of co-evolution. Hummingbirds have very long, narrow beaks, and the flowers they pollinate have very deep, narrow tubes in the center. This allows hummingbirds to insert their beaks into the flower, thereby stimulating the reproductive center and allowing for pollination. The relationship between flower shapes and their mutual pollinators cannot be overlooked.

Another striking example of co-evolution is found in the wide array of colors exhibited by many flowers. The scientific community has shown that certain pollinators are attracted to a flower's individual color or lack of it. In fact, some flower colors are so dominant when it comes to attracting pollinators that hybrid colors fail to attract as many pollinators. It might be easiest to think of flowers wearing colors as a woman who wears makeup to attract a mate. Flowers that depend upon insects, birds, or bees for pollination appear in bright, vivid colors. These colors help the flower stand out and be noticed. Interestingly, flowers or grasses that depend upon the wind for pollination do not appear in bright colors but are rather dull in hue. These flora types do not need to attract attention in order to reproduce.

Scientists have shown that certain pollinators are attracted to individual flower species depending upon the color and will show preference to particular shades. The interrelationship between flowers and their pollinators is truly a marvel of the diversity and magnificence of life.

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