Hibiscus and nectar harvest

posted in: Plants, Sunbirds | 2

An image by Melinda Chan shows a male Brown-throated Sunbird (Anthreptes malacensis) robbing nectar from a hibiscus flower by probing his bill through the base of the flower (left).

Now why did the bird do that?

The natural pollinator of hibiscus has been reported to be the hummingbird. The sunbird is not adapted for hibiscus pollination, so to harvest the nectar in the flower, it has resorted to the unconventional method of probing the base of the flower. This is referred to as robbing, as by doing so the bird is not doing the flower a favour, i.e. assisting in its pollination.

Hibiscus or China rose (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) is native to continental Asia, probably China. The species has been in cultivation in various forms for centuries and the species itself has never been found in the wild. In Singapore, the plant never produces any fruit or seeds.

Melinda Chan
November 2007

2 Responses

  1. Gim Cheong

    If the Hibiscus is a native of Asia, then hummingbirds cannot be its natural pollinator as hummingbirds only occur in the Americas.

    The stamens of the hibiscus are far from the nectar, that makes it interesting – what creature will brush against the stamens while trying to get the nectar?


  2. YC

    There are basically two groups of hibiscus – the hardy species originating from North America and the tropical species, most of which are descended from H. rosa-sinensis that originated from Asia. The former group can be pollinated by hummingbirds as well as insects. H. rosa-sinensis is pollinated by insects like bees.

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