As regular followers have probably noticed, the genus Massonia is a particular interest of mine. These bulbs (related to Hyacinth) from South Africa are mostly insect pollinated but there was speculation for many years that some species may be pollinated by rodents (mice and gerbils especially).
Some of the evidence:
- There is a superficial resemblance of the flowers of some Massonia species to flowers of certain low-growing Protea shrubs known to be rodent pollinated. Here is a picture from Johnson and Pauw’s paper in Annals of Botany in 2014, showing a mouse at a Leocospermum (Pincushion Protea) flower:
- They share a yeasty aroma with those Protea.
- The nectar forms large open pools in the flower tube but is far too viscous for insects to take up through the proboscis.
In recent years several scientific studies have observed rodent pollination taking place in Massonia and the closely related Whiteheadia:
Whiteheadia bifolia has often been included within Massonia, a position I find hard to argue with. In cultivation it is best treated as a succulent plant, and allowed to go dry and dormant in summer. I find it prefers a slightly more shaded position than other Massonia or the leaves can easily scorch when the sum warms up in March. It flowers in late winter.
The recently rediscovered true Massonia pustulata shares many of the characteristics of the rodent pollinated species, including the pools of nectar. I know of no evidence for rodent pollination in this species but it seems likely:
Massonia depressa is more common in cultivation and has been proven to be rodent pollinated in the wild. The flowers are variable in colour, normally being the pale colour in the first picture below but there are also maroon forms. The recently found M. citrina (not shown) appears to me to be simply a yellow form of M. depressa.
Those who follow me on Instagram will have seen my own pictures of the gorgeous Protea nana this week, by coincidence this is also at least partially rodent pollinated: