Floral morphology of Eucalyptus leucoxylon (Myrtaceae) facilitates pollination by lorikeet (Aves: Psittacidae) tongues. Academic Article uri icon


  • Bird pollination is particularly common and widespread in the southern regions of Australia. Despite some eucalypts being heavily frequented by birds, they are usually considered to have a generalist pollination system because of their apparently unspecialised floral morphology. A few species possess protandrous anthers that dehisce within a tightly furled dome of filaments. We hypothesised that this facilitates pollen transport via the brush tongues of lorikeets. Using Eucalyptus leucoxylon F.Muell. and five captive rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus hematodus) as a model, we demonstrated that lorikeets remove significant quantities of pollen from flowers with inflexed filaments in a short time (30 min), compared with bagged control flowers (Mann–Whitney U test, Z = 165.4, d.f. = 29, P = 0.008). Some of this pollen is deposited on stigmas by the tongue, which is the organ that most regularly and reliably contacts stigmas. The mean number of pollen grains deposited on stigmas by each bird was as high as 121.2. Adhesive tape contacted by the tongue during foraging removed up to 2104 pollen grains, which was significantly greater than for uncontacted control tape (Mann–Whitney U test, Z = 110, d.f. = 21, P < 0.001). Scanning electron micrograph imaging of a lorikeet tongue showed many pollen grains that had been transferred onto its keratin papillae, which is likely to have contributed to high carryover rates by retaining pollen for a substantial amount of time. Minimal pollen is available for generalist pollination once the filaments unfurl. It appears highly unlikely that insects are able to access pollen from these male-phase flowers and inflexed filaments may therefore fulfil an exclusionary role.

publication date

  • 2017