Flowers actively communicate with environment

30 June 2017

An international team of researchers, which includes Robert Schuurink from the University of Amsterdam, has discovered that flowers actively transfer molecules in the air to attract pollinators like bees and moths.

For long it was thought that these so-called volatiles passively diffuse from the petals of the flower to the air. The results of their research were published in Science on Friday, June 30.

Floral volatiles play an important role in attracting pollinators such as bees and moths to ensure fertilisation and seed set. In fact, seed and fruit set in many of our crops depend on pollinators.


It was already known that flowers regulate the production of volatiles to a very high degree. For instance, certain Petunias produce and emit several volatile benzoates only at night when their moth pollinators are active. Production is completely reset before dawn.

For long it was thought that emission was a passive process. However, recent modelling showed that this is very unlikely, since very high levels of volatiles in the membrane around the cell would be necessary to sustain this diffusion, which are harmful to the cell.

Published by  Swammerdam Institute