Insects and birds do the work
By Cushla McGaughey
Our small native bees have only short tongues and butterflies species are few.
To set seed, insect-pollinated flowers must also attract beetles, flies and an abundance of moths. That’s why most native flowers are white.
It’s a colour visible to all pollinating visitors, especially night-flying moths.
The flowers usually have simple shapes so that nectar is easy to reach. Strong scent is often an added lure.
Birds have little sense of smell but do have a keen perception of colour. The flowers they pollinate usually lack scent and are typically yellow or red. They need to be shaped to hold more nectar.
Tui and bellbirds have slender curved bills and long, brush-tipped tongues for reaching deep-set nectar. As the birds feed, pollen dusts their heads and chests, transferring from flower to flower.
Five-finger has a different system again. Extracting nectar from small flowers can be too much work to tempt the bird pollinators.
But five-finger nectar is spread over the top of the flowers: the birds then simply lick the clusters like lollypops.