The Perfect Landing Pad

Recently while sitting in my garden observing various visitors – a little field mouse bolting for cover as a mongoose came stepping by, hadeda ibis trailing across the lawn in search of worms, my attention was diverted to the tree strelitzia’s (Strelitzia alba) blooms and a Cape sugarbird perching to drink nectar.  I dashed to get my camera to record the event in a happy glow of anticipation.  For a while i’ve been following the exciting developments of biomimicry and the innovative designs being inspired by nature.   See a previous post on the structure of the dragonfly’s wings.    Janine Benyus’s excellent book published in 1997 “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature” raised publicity around the subject of science studying nature for design solutions.   Coincidentally i came across Sarah van der Walt’s for the latest innovations of the industry here in the Mother City.

Back to the action in my garden – i wanted to capture the effect of the elasticity of the petals which bend to expose the anthers and then smoothly counter bend to close the nectary. In this example the strelitzia flower is aligned perpendicular to it’s stalk providing a perfect perching spot for birds.  Notice the mid-rib extending just beyond the bird’s left foot?  It’s flexible design allows the petals to ‘pop’ open and expose the anther filaments covered in pollen.   While it imbibes the sweet nectar the bird’s feet are covered in pollen which will then be transferred to the next flower in the process of pollination.

There are five different species of strelitzia.  Also growing in pride of place in my garden is the classical beauty – Strelitzia reginae with it’s gorgeous orange and purple/blue flowers encased in a sturdy colourful spathe as featured below –

Out of curiosity at seeing how the petals spring open I decided to dissect a couple of the flowers to reveal how the structure of the joined petals operated under the weight of the bird.  A midrib runs freely along a groove so that it flexes and allows the parting of the two halves to pop open.  When the bird flies off the petals realign again.

In 2011 an interesting project headed by Simon Schleicher of the University of Stuttgart and a team of researchers came up with the “Flectofin”  – a hingless louvre system, based on the studies and principles abstracted from the strelitzia plant.   Neat!

As i watch the birds flitting between the blooms in this garden at the bottom end of Africa, how awe inspiring it is to reflect on the genius of nature.


The exposed anthers showing pollen encrusted filaments.