Do you know why insects attract flowers? Few things are more enjoyable than seeing a field of vibrant flowers dance in the breeze, emit pleasant scents, and attract bees and butterflies. Even though it might be relaxing to watch, this is a kind of “business relationship.” Your plants use at least three things to attract insects to flowers. It is helpful because most plants need to move pollen from one flower to another to make seeds. The flowers attract insects, which helps both the insects and the flowers.
How do flowers attract insects?
Flying Through the Air
How flowers attract insects has changed over time to become an excellent way to spread pollen. Most flowers attract insects by being brightly colored and standing on long stems, so they wave in the air and are closer to where insects fly rather than being on the ground. Insects are drawn to a flower’s size and shape of its petals and color. Some flowers are more appealing to insects than others—for instance, tiny wasps like small flowers like alyssum.
Feeding: Honey and Pollen
Bugs need food to get the energy and protein they need. Deep in the middle of a flower is a “nectary” that makes nectar, a sugary solution that insects like and gives them carbs. Pollen from plants has a lot of protein, which insects need to build their bodies. Bees, for instance, bring pollen and nectar back to their hives to help the young bees grow.
Smell: Flowers and smelly things
Plants also make smells to attract insects, probably to let them know that nectar and pollen are there for them to eat. The insect moves around in a flower as it drinks nectar or collects pollen. Pollen grains, which sit on long, thin stalks in the center of the flower, stick to its legs or underside. When pollen moves to another flower, it can go down a stigma tube to where the ovules are on the plant. The eggs are in the ovules. When a pollen grain gets to it, it fertilizes an egg, which grows into a seed.
Flowers probably got their smell from chemicals meant to scare away animals that ate plants. But once the insects that landed on the flowers learned that the chemicals didn’t bother them or scare them out. They began to choose to land on flowers with these scents.
Flower Markings: Guides to the Nectar
Nectar guides are lines or other marks on the petals that help the bees find the nectar. These help insects find their way to the center of a flower, where the nectar and reproductive parts are. Near the center of each petal of a flower that bees like, there is often a spot with low ultraviolet reflectance that guides the nectar. Bees can see the reflection even though people can’t.
Plant to Bring in Helpful Bugs
To have a great garden, gardeners can plant flowers that attract “good” insects that eat harmful insects like aphids, the Colorado potato beetle, Harlequin bugs, green cabbage worms, and tomato hornworms, flea beetles, corn earworms, and many other caterpillars, and Japanese beetles. To stop the damage done by pests that eat everything in sight, bring in “good” bugs like bees, green lacewings, ladybugs, wasps, and flower flies. These bugs parasitize or eat the “bad” bugs.
Many flowers, like daisies, marigolds, passionflowers, and sunflowers, attract these good bugs. In general, both people and insects are drawn to red, yellow, or blue flowers.
Many adults of natural enemies, especially tiny wasps and flies, go to flowering plants to get nectar and pollen. Flowers attract and keep many pests’ natural enemies in the yard by giving them nectar and pollen. This is called natural or biological control. Lady beetles, green lacewings, syrphid flies, tachinid flies, sphecid wasps, and other parasitic wasps are some of the many helpful insects visiting flowers.
Predatory bugs like nabid bugs, minute pirate bugs, and two-spotted stink bugs can also be found on flowers. But they usually don’t eat the flowers themselves. Instead, they eat thrips and other insects that are eating the blossoms. Whether or not planting a particular flower will help get rid of a troublesome garden pest depends on how well the flower attracts the pain’s better natural enemies.
Flowers tempt insects with pollen and nectar to induce them to carry pollen from one bloom to the next, pollinating the flowers. But a flower’s size and shape limit the kinds of insects that can get to its pollen and nectar. Many natural enemies that can benefit most from flower resources are tiny wasps, which will get lost in a giant flower. The best flowers for these little pests are also small. Many of these tiny flowers come in oversized packages that we’d call a single flower but are a group of many small flowers.
Look at a Queen Anne’s lace “flower.” It’s a big cluster of flowers (an umbel, technically speaking). But for a tiny syrphid fly, less than 14 inches long. It’s a feast of hundreds of tiny flowers that make nectar. Each flower is flat, not tubular, and has nectaries out in the open (but you probably can’t see that!) So it’s easy for the fly’s small mouthparts to get to the good stuff. These kinds of flowers are often on lists of flowers to plant to attract good bugs, or they are sold as “insectary seed blends.”
Why do you think insects are drawn to flowers?
Insects are drawn to flowers because of their smell or because their petals are brightly colored. Insects eat nectar, a pleasant liquid produced by many flowers. The carpel is the part of the flower that makes the seeds. It comprises an ovary, a stigma, and a style.
Why does the plant need to make insects come to it?
Pollen must be moved from one flower to another by flowering plants, either inside the same plant for self-pollination or across species for cross-pollination. Pollen cannot travel on its own. Therefore animals, the wind, and even water help plants transport them.
Insects are more likely to move around and look for nectar when it’s warm out. On cold, rainy days, insects are less likely to move around. Honeybees, for example, use both their sense of smell and their eyesight to find nearby flowers as the sun shines on a bright lotus sitting in water. As the insect lands and rubs against the flower, pollen grains from that flower may stick to its body and help it grow.
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