Why Do Plants Have Flowers? Unlocking Nature's Secrets

Colorful inflorescences are supposed to lure pollinators. Learn how nature adapted plants to survive in a changing environment.

Why Do Plants Have Flowers? Unlocking Nature's Secrets

Survival of the Species: The Primary Reason for Flowers

Flowers are essential to plant reproduction, and their reproductive organs have been modified to optimize the sexual process in plants. There are two types of flowers - bisexual and dioecious. Bisexual flowers contain both male and female parts, while dioecious flowers have separate pistils and stamens.

Most plants rely on insects for pollination, and they have evolved to create attractive features to lure them in. These features include sumptuous and fragrant inflorescences, which increase the chances of pollination. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male to the female reproductive organs of a flower, resulting in the production of fruits and seeds.

A flower pollinated by a bee
A flower pollinated by a bee

Interestingly, it is estimated that nearly 77% of crops depend on insect pollination for successful growth. Therefore, the correlation between plants and pollinators is not only crucial for plants but also for human beings.

Flowering plants have evolved different mechanisms to encourage pollinators, depending on the feeding mode of the pollinator. From colors to scents, plants use a range of attractants to ensure they have the best chance of reproducing and passing their genes onto the next generation.

Flowering plants of the asteraceae family attract insects with their colorful tubular and ray flowers.
Flowering plants of the asteraceae family attract insects with their colorful tubular and ray flowers.

In turn, pollinators have developed a response mechanism to flower stimuli. Flowers in the temperate climatic zone are primarily pollinated by organisms that lead a daily lifestyle - pollinating insects. In tropical zones, however, many pollinators are small animals, such as butterflies, rodents, birds, beetles, and even bats.

The Role of Flower Shape and Size in Plant Reproduction

The structure of flowers and inflorescences is intended to assist in the reproduction of plants. The flowers of species pollinated by insects show several adaptations. For example, the formation of large or small flowers gathered in inflorescences.

For example:

  • A basket-type inflorescence (e.g. sunflower, rudbeckia) - is large, flat and has several dozen tubular flowers on its surface, which act as a landing site for insects that carry pollen.
  • Spike inflorescence (grain, grass) - is to facilitate the transfer and catching pollen carried by the wind.
Species with basket structure of flowers adapted to pollination by insects
Species with basket structure of flowers adapted to pollination by insects
Grasses are plants whose flowers are pollinated by the wind
Grasses are plants whose flowers are pollinated by the wind

How Flowers Attract Pollinators: Nature's Marketing Strategy

The Role of Color in Attracting Pollinators

The color of a flower's petals serves a specific purpose in attracting pollinators. It acts as a lure, drawing in pollinators and encouraging them to visit and transfer pollen. Certain species deliberately produce flowers of a particular color, while others rely on stamens or faded flowers to do the job.

Plant pigments stored in the cell sap, such as carotenoids, chlorophylls, and flavonoids, determine the color of the flower. Interestingly, only white flowers lack pigment in their color bodies, with air as their only component.

Shy mimosa flower
Shy mimosa flower

Pollinators such as butterflies, bees, and bumblebees cannot see the color red. Instead, they see UV light, which, combined with yellow, gives the illusion of red. Day butterflies are attracted to pink and purple flowers, while flies prefer yellow and white.

Hummingbirds, on the other hand, like red flowers. The flowers of the columbine, daylilies, petunias, penstemon, and monarda are beautiful to these bird pollinators. The phenomenon of pollination of plants by birds is called ornithophily.

Pollination of plants by birds
The hummingbird is one of the birds that pollinates flowers by feeding on nectar.

The Power of Scent: How Flowers Use Fragrance to Attract Pollinators

Many flowers secrete attractive fragrances to lure pollinators. Nectar produced by flowers attracts insects that feed on it, while the scent of essential oils attracts other pollinators. However, some plants have an unpleasant scent, such as the titan arum, which has a repulsive odor similar to that of carrion. In tropical regions, flies are attracted to the smell of carrion, and many plants are pollinated by these insects.

Titan arum lures pollinators with an unpleasant odor
Titan arum lures pollinators with an unpleasant odor

Flowers from the Bombacaceae and Bignoniaceae families in warm regions of Africa only open at night, with their sweet scent attracting bats, their primary pollinators.

The Sweetness of Nectar: The Food Reward for Pollinators

Sweet flower nectar is produced solely to attract pollinators and often contains sugars. For some insects, like the butterfly imago, it is the only food source available.

Macroglossum stellatarum it is an insect that like butterflies feeds on pollen
Macroglossum stellatarum it is an insect that like butterflies feeds on pollen

The Role of Mechanism

Some flowers have evolved mechanisms to close insects inside, such as the lady's-slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus), which prevents insects from leaving for an extended period. This mechanism ensures that the insect's body is thoroughly covered with pollen, leading to pollination of the next specimen.

The Impact of Environmental Factors on Flowering

Plants are living organisms that respond to their surroundings. Several environmental elements can influence a plant's flowering process significantly. Understanding these factors can offer insights into how we might optimize flower health and growth in our own gardens and landscapes.

Effect of Light, Temperature, and Water

Light, temperature, and water are key elements that govern the life cycle of a plant, particularly when it comes to flowering.

Light: The duration, intensity, and quality of light that a plant receives can greatly influence its flowering. Many flowering plants are classified as either "short-day" or "long-day." Short-day plants require longer periods of darkness to trigger flowering, while long-day plants need more sunlight.

Temperature: Temperature affects the rate of plant growth and the timing of flowering. Some plants require exposure to colder temperatures (a process known as vernalization) to induce flowering.

Water: Adequate water supply is essential for flower development. Overwatering or underwatering can lead to the demise of the flowers. Proper watering ensures healthy blooms and prevents the plant from becoming stressed, which can delay or halt flowering.


Flowers' beauty and fragrance serve a critical purpose beyond human pleasure. They use these features to compete with one another and increase their chances of pollination. Over centuries, plants have evolved reproductive organs that attract pollinators with the promise of pollen, nectar, and shelter. The success of this mutual exchange relies on the pollinator's sense of smell and the compatibility of the plant and pollinator's morphology.

The relationship between plants and pollinators is crucial not only to the plants themselves but to us humans as well. This is why there has been a growing concern for bee protection in recent years. Pollinators are vital to our ecosystem and play a significant role in food production, making their protection essential to the health and wellbeing of our planet.