Cannas and nectar harvest

on 27th October 2007

Cannas are popular border plants with large, showy flowers of red, yellow or yellow spotted with red. These plants are native to tropical America and have been cultivated in Singapore for decades. All these garden cannas are hybrids (below).


The pollinators of canna in its native tropical America are bees, hummingbirds and bats. The local bird species are not adapted to these exotic flowers, so they have found shortcuts, or at least a few of them have, to tap on the nectar without helping to pollinate the flower in the process. This has happened in many exotic garden plants and wayside trees, one example posted recently is the African Tulip.


In canna, Melinda Chan has recently sent an image showing a sunbird poking its bill into the base of the flower to get at the nectar (left). By doing so, the plant has obviously been cheated.

Wells (2007) reports the Crimson Sunbird (Aethopyga siparaja) and Olive-backed Sunbird (Cinnyris jugularis) robbing the flowers of the lily Canna indica of nectar by puncturing through the corolla base.

We encourage the documentation of such nectar harvesting in other exotic flowering plants. If anyone has any such observations or images, please share them.
Melinda Chan & YC Wee
September 2007
(Top image by YC Wee, bottom by Melinda)

Wells, D.R. (2007). The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. II, Passerines. Christopher Helm, London.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

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