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Con artists and traffic wardens: the secret lives of flowers

Bombus pascuorum, the common carder beeAndy Winfield

Press release issued: 15 May 2017

How do bees maintain a healthy bee lifestyle and how do plants manipulate their pollinators? These questions and many more will be answered this Sunday [May 21] when the University of Bristol Botanic Garden celebrates the fourth international Fascination of Plants Day.

Tom Timberlake, a PhD student in the University’s School of Biological Sciences, will be at Garden to explain how plants manipulate their pollinators in many ways by using scent, taste, appearance or even mind-altering chemicals to persuade pollinators to visit them and spread their pollen far and wide.

Tom said: “A priority for most plants is to ensure they receive pollen from distant plants, not just their own flowers. Foxglove flowers act as traffic wardens, ensuring bees only move from bottom to top. Flowers at the bottom of the plant produce more nectar than those at the top. This ensures that bees arrive to the bottom of the plant where the flowers are female. They deposit pollen brought from other plants before moving upwards towards the less nectar rich male flowers at the top. This one-way traffic prevents pollen moving between flowers on the same plant.”

The flowers of coffee plants contain tiny amounts of caffeine in their nectar which enhances a bee’s memory of that nectar and encourages them to pollinate other coffee flowers. Bee orchids, on the other hand, mimic both the appearance and smell of a female bee. When the male begins to mate, he triggers the release of pollen which is transported onto the next flower.

In addition to talking to the public about the weapons used by flowers, Tom will also be explaining about the importance of a balanced diet for bees. While nectar is the main source of energy for bees, it contains far more than just sugar. Amino acids, ions, fats, antioxidants and anti-microbial compounds are all part of its rich cocktail of ingredients Different plants contain different combinations of these ingredients and some will only be found in specific ones. Visiting a range of different plant species is therefore critical to maintaining a healthy bee lifestyle.

Nicholas Wray, curator of the Botanic Garden, added: “This year’s Fascination of Plants Day will give visitors the opportunity to visit the Garden and meet with and chat to one of the University’s young researchers.  They will also be able to explore the Garden where they will see a wealth of truly fascinating plants.”

The Fascination of Plants Day 2017 at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden will take place on Sunday 21 May from 10 am to 4.30 pm.  Tom Timberlake will be discussing his work in the Denvers Room.

Entry to the Fascination of Plants Day is £5.50 adults; free to University staff and retired staff, Friends of the Botanic Garden, ALL students and children under 18.

Further information

About Fascination of Plants Day 2017
The fourth international Fascination of Plants Day will be launched under the umbrella of the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO). The goal of this activity is to get as many people as possible around the world fascinated by plants and enthused about the importance of plant science for agriculture, in sustainably producing food, as well as for horticulture, forestry, and all of the non-food products such as paper, timber, chemicals, energy, and pharmaceuticals. The role of plants in environmental conservation will also be a key message

About the Botanic Garden
The Botanic Garden has a strong evolutionary theme and cultivates over 4,500 plant species forming four core collections that illustrate plant evolution, plants from Mediterranean climates, useful plants and rare and threatened native plants to the Bristol area. 

Star attractions include an amazing dell demonstrating the evolution of land plants including the dinosaurs’ favourite plants: ginkgos, cycads, tree ferns, monkey puzzles and the Wollemi Pine.  Other delights include the Chinese and Western herb gardens and an inspiring display of plants illustrating floral diversity. 

Opening times
Until the end of October the Garden is open from 10 am until 4.30 pm for seven days a week including bank holidays.

Admission is £5.50 (Gift Aid payment)* or £5.00 (non - Gift Aid payment); free to University staff and retired staff, Friends of the Botanic Garden, students and children under 18.

*The adult gate entry fee of £5.50 includes a 50p voluntary donation which UK taxpayers’ can pay, allowing the Botanic Garden to benefit from a 25 per cent refund of tax from the government on each adult ticket

Dogs (except registered disability assistance dogs) are not permitted in the Botanic Garden.

The garden is largely accessible for wheelchairs and mobility scooters with a designated path leading around the garden and glasshouses. Disabled toilet facilities are available on site.

Pre-booked guided tours of the garden for groups of ten upwards are available seven days a week.  Please contact the garden for further information.  There is a charge for the guide.

Directions to the Botanic Garden
From the city centre go to the top of Whiteladies Road, at the junction and traffic lights go straight ahead across Durdham Down towards Stoke Bishop. At the traffic lights go straight ahead and take the first turning on the right into Stoke Park Road, The Botanic Garden at the Holmes is 150 metres on the right.

Members of the public wishing to support the work of the Botanic Garden should join the Friends of the Garden. For more information go to the Friends of the Botanic Garden or write to Susan Redfern, The Membership Secretary, 24 Dublin Crescent, Henleaze, Bristol BS9 4NA.

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