Touch-sensitive stamens enhance pollen dispersal by scaring away visitors

Deng Fei Li, Wen Long Han, Susanne S. Renner, Shuang Quan Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Animal-pollinated plants have to get pollen to a conspecific stigma while protecting it from getting eaten. Touch-sensitive stamens, which are found in hundreds of flowering plants, are thought to function in enhancing pollen export and reducing its loss, but experimental tests are scarce. Stamens of Berberis and Mahonia are inserted between paired nectar glands and when touched by an insect’s tongue rapidly snap forward so that their valvate anthers press pollen on the insect’s tongue or face. We immobilized the stamens in otherwise unmodified flowers and studied pollen transfer in the field and under enclosed conditions. On flowers with immobilized stamens, the most common bee visitor stayed up to 3.6× longer, yet removed 1.3× fewer pollen grains and deposited 2.1× fewer grains on stigmas per visit. Self-pollen from a single stamen hitting the stigma amounted to 6% of the grains received from single bee visits. Bees discarded pollen passively placed on their bodies, likely because of its berberine content; nectar has no berberine. Syrphid flies fed on both nectar and pollen, taking more when stamens were immobilized. Pollen-tracking experiments in two Berberis species showed that mobile-stamen-flowers donate pollen to many more recipients. These results demonstrate another mechanism by which plants simultaneously meter out their pollen and reduce pollen theft.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere81449
StatePublished - Oct 2022


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