Saturday, 9 February 2019

The Birds, the Bees and Anthuriums

What’s on the show today?

A beautiful bird regails us in Wildlife in Focus, the elusive pollination problem in vegetable heroes, a an alluring indoor plant in Plant of the Week plus Why Don’t Plants Last in Design Elements.


Beautiful Firetail Finch: Stagonopleura bella
Over the years, Australian birds have featured on this program, but how good are we at identifying the calls?
It’s not that easy is it?
Beautiful Firetail finch
What about placing a particular bird in the correct family of birds?
That should be easier so where do finches sit? Parrot family or Passerine?
Let’s find out .
I'm talking with Dr Holly Parsons from

Amazing to see in the wild, males and female Firetail Finches are similar, being small and chunky, with striking barring and a pale blue eye ring.
Let’s hope listeners that people don’t mistake them for mice scuttling about the long grass looking for grass seeds.
They also like the seeds of Casuarinas and Tea-Trees.
Can you imagine this little bird building an exact bottle shaped nest tipped on its side? 
The nest is built from grass and carefully woven by both of the birds.
Not found in urban settings that much, but in shrubby settings.

If you have any questions either for me or for Holly, drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675


The reason this topic is being mentioned is because although gardeners realise that pollination is vital in a plants reproductive cycle so that seeds, fruit or veg is formed.
The problem is though, gardeners often struggle with the question,
“ why haven’t I got fruit on my zucchini plant, when there’s plenty of flowers, and plenty of bees buzzing around.?
Substitute what fruit or vegetable that you’ve had trouble with getting it to fruit in place of that zucchini, it could be beans.
Sometimes it seems so random, for example, last year, I had plenty of flowers on my passionfruit vine, but not a single passionfruit.
This year, though, there’s plenty of passionfruit.
So what happened?
First , let’s start with what is pollination?
Put simply, during plant reproduction, pollination is when pollen grains move from the anther of one flower to the stigma of another flower.
Insects can pollinate flowers, and so can the wind.
Insect-pollinated flowers are different in structure from wind-pollinated flowers.
Insect pollinated flowers are large and brightly coloured, mostly scented and with nectar.
All of this is needed to attract the insects.
  • The pollen grains are sticky or spiky so that they stick to the insect good and proper.
  • Inside the flower, the anthers are stiff and firmly attached so that they remain in place when an insect brushes past.

  • The stigma, usually higher than the anther, has a sticky surface to which pollen grains attach themselves when an insect brushes past.
  • Wind pollinated flowers are often small, dull green or brown with no scent or nectar.
  • The flower usually has hundreds of thousands of pollen grains that are smooth and light so that they can easily be carried by wind without clumping together.
  • Anthers are outside the flower, and usually looks quite long.
  • All the better to easily release pollen grains.
  • The stigma is also outside the flower and looks more like a feather duster so it can more easily catch those drifting light pollen grains.
  • That’s important to remember if you think about sweet corn which is from the grass family and therefore wind pollinated.
When it comes to insect pollinated flowers, the different heights of the anther and the stigma is designed by nature so that the plant avoids self-pollination or inbreeding.

Did you know that most plants are hermaphrodites because they have both male and female parts in the same flower?

Even corn is a hermaphrodite but because it’s in the grass family, it has separate male and female flowers on the same plant rather than on different plants like Spinach.
In Corn the male flowers are position above the female flowers, ie, silks, below containing the ears.
The flowers are self-compatible with pollen being spread by wind and not insects.
This means it’s subject to inbreeding depression, so seed savers need to replant at least a hundred plants for true to type maintenance.
  • Pumpkin and zucchini is another variation in that the separate male and female flowers are on the same plant and are self –compatible just like corn, but relying on insects.
  • Without insects to transfer the pollen there would be no fruit.
  • Did you know that our favourite vegetable, the tomato, is a hermaphrodite too?
  • Botanists call the flowers of tomatoes, perfect flowers because they have male and female flowers within the same flower.
  • That means they are self-pollinating and don’t need cross-pollination by wind, birds or insects.

Now to that sticky question, “why isn’t my plant fruiting?”
There’s plenty of flowers and insects but still no fruit.
Weather conditions are key factors in successful pollination.
High humidity creates sticky pollen which does not transfer well.
Plants in the cucurbit family rely on honeybees for pollination, and honeybees do not fly in cool, cloudy weather.
Male Flower of Zucchini
  • If you need to you can hand pollinate the cucurbit’s flowers.
  • As temperatures reach the high 20's, the success rate for pollination declines.
  • A heat wave in the thirties, will result in poor if any, pollination.
  • To help with fruit set, try misting the flowers early in the morning with a spray bottle of water.
  • When the weather is very hot and dry with temperatures over 290 C,  the pollen becomes very dry and isn't easily transferred.

Zucchine female flower and fruit
  • Again, it’s a good idea to try misting the flowers with water occasionally and keep up the mulch around the base so the plants don't dry out too much.
  • This is common with many plants, especially with more northerly climates.
  • The cure, shade cloth covers.
Another factor is plant stress:
In nature when a plant is under stress, it will not produce fruit.
Or, it will abort existing fruit.
It’s a survival mechanism, allowing a plant to focus upon survival first.
That stress is caused by:
Water: too little or too much water.
The Cure: Keep soil consistently moist, not wet and not dry.
Another reason is a Soil pH imbalance: this could be pH levels are too high, or too low.
The Cure:: Get your soil tested. Alter pH levels as indicated by the test.
And if you don’t have enough insects like bees visiting your garden, you know what to do, plant more bee and other insect attracting plants like Borage and Alyssum around your garden.


Anthurium "Allure."
Listeners in southern states will have to keep this plant outdoors, however if you live in Townsville or around the Top End, outdoors will be no problem all year round but not in full sun.
But what is this alluring plant with dark green luscious, tropical leaves.
Let’s find out …

I'm talking with the plant panel where were Jeremy Critchley of and Karen Smith editor of

Anthuriums are evergreen, subtropical small plants with dark green glossy heart shaped flowers and leaves.
They’re great for indoors as houseplants but if you live in the tropics, they also make beautiful underplanting for shady and part-shady spots.

If you have any questions either for me or Jeremy or Karen why not write in to

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