Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Deeper Level of Communication

The cherry trees are our earliest blooming trees beautifying the garden every February. Well, until the temperatures plummet and put a damper on the pink party.


Both the bees and blooms respond to the first warm, sunny day. It is fascinating to watch these fuzzy pollinators as they amble from bloom to bloom.


These busy bees are filling their pollen sacs with up to a million grains of pollen. Just look at the size of that yummy pollen.



How do they do it so efficiently?
We know that plants have formed associations with pollinators over millions of years to ensure pollination and survival. Plants provide many clues to pollinators using bright colors, patterns and scents to encourage visits.

Vision is very important to bees. Flowers look differently to them. If anything they are even more beautiful! They see things at the blue end of our visual spectrum, hence they don't see the color red. But they do see ultra-violet light patterns that we can not detect. Many flowers have a very distinct UV color pattern that are incredibly eye-catching to bees. You can see an impressive collection of flowers photographed in ultra-violet light (available here). This is how the blooms in your garden look to a bee. 


But scientists have discovered a deeper level of communication between flowers and bees.

New study
A new study has just been published where scientists from the University of Bristol discovered that plants are able to communicate using electric fields.

"Plants are known to emit weak negatively charged electric fields and bees acquire a positive charge of up to 200 volts as they fly through the air. As a charged bee approaches a flower, the difference in electrical potential is not enough to produce sparks but can be felt by the insect."

Amazingly the bees could distinguish between different floral fields as if they were petal colors. The scientists are not sure how the bees detect the electric fields but one theory is that the electrostatic force makes their hair bristle. The plant's electrical potential changed when a bee visited the flower and remained that way for a few minutes. The thinking is that it may be the way the plant lets other bees know that it is temporarily closed for business and to come back in a little while.


Whether it is electrical fields, color, pattern or scent, the bees love these blossoms, even when they've fallen on the ground.


I'll wrestle you for some pollen!

20 comments:

  1. I just love reading all these new science finds. It really is amazing what they keep finding out in the natural world, the interconnectedness of creatures and plants. I have not heard this of this study on plants being able to communicate using electric fields. Very wonderful stuff!!! Great when they figure out how it is done, but it seems like the hair bristling is going to be the definitive answer. It seems most logical.

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    1. After writing this post I observed the bees at the blossoms and it was interesting to watch them fly right by certain blooms or hover in front of a bloom and then instead of going in move on. I can't help but wonder if I witnessed the plant and bee communicating!

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  2. Fascinating! There is so much that we still have to learn about the world around us!

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  3. In a few more months, I'll be pleased to see the bees in my garden. Your photos are amazing!

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  4. I don't think we'll see bees before April. The idea of plants communicating through electricity is amazing. Sounds like an airport control tower communicating with an incoming flight.

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  5. Awesome post...I grow tons of flowers but the one thing that the bees love more than anything is Mexican Heather...they cannot get enough of them.....I don't know if it is the fact that the flowers are smaller then most and it takes longer to finish the task or what. Last year when I grew huge sunflowers it was really neat to watch them work. They were like an assembly line methodically working in a patterned circle to complete their job....

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  6. Karin what an interesting post. I love learning all the new science behind our critters and the gardens they love. I loved the UV look of the flowers...I hope that this year perhaps my native black cherry stick will put on new growth and perhaps a flower or 2. No bees here until April either unless we get a nice easy steady warm up. Still snow o the ground and winter has not loosened her grip.

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    1. The snow moving across the country has been brutal! We just keep getting rain but we still need the water. I hope you black cherry tree will be magnificent for you this year!

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  7. too cute! love the pink party, too!

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  8. Thanks for that Karin. It really brightened my day! I needed some of that voltage.

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  9. Wonderful photos Karin.
    They are really beautiful.


    Have a good week

    x Fiona

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    1. Thanks Fiona! Hope you have a rewarding week too!

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  10. I think you posted these on Facebook, too, right? Incredible photos, Karin! And such a hopeful sign of spring. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. yes, I did post some of these when I was trying out my new lens. Unfortunately we got some night time temperatures in the 20's which damage the blooms on the outside of the branches. Today was sunny & warm and the bees were back visiting the cherry blossoms.

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  11. Great posting Karin, it is all so fascinating. Your photos are out of this world too!

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  12. here we've the almond trees in full bloom for two weeks and now they are getting green. i love the signs of spring with trees blooming, but more the sign of life with bees all around. It's fasconating that we can learn so much form the natural world, I am advocate for bees, wie will be without fruit pretty soon if we do not care for them. Thanks for posting!

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  13. That is so cool! I have never seen a bee on a blossom that was on the ground :) Just beautiful!

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  14. Hi Karin, your photos are all great most specially that bee full of pollen. But i love most the study you just shared here, haven't read or heard about that yet. I am not surprised that everything in the universe has their own unique way of communication, it is just us who don't know!

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  15. What an interesting study, there's so much to learn about the world isn't there? I really loved that photo at the end, he really does look ready to take on that blossom should it decide to fight back :)

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  16. Seeing your cherry blossoms sure does make me yearn for spring. They are so pink and gorgeous. And that bee with the thick blob of pollen is spectacular! I can't wait!!!

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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