The Birds, The Bees & The Kangaroo Paws

Anigozanthos manglesii by Tanya Marwood P1040692.JPG
Anigozanthos manglesii at Alan Anderson reserve, T Marwood.

Bronwyn Ayre, a PhD candidate at UWA and BGPA (Kings Park), is studying the pollination of Red and Green Kangaroo Paws. Her talk covered many aspects of Kangaroo Paws and Catspaws, including a description of each one in WA, e.g.:

  • Anigozanthos flavidus – Tall Kangaroo Paw
  • Anigozanthos bicolor – Little Kangaroo Paw
  • Anigozanthos gabrielae – Dwarf Kangaroo Paw
  • Anigozanthos viridis – Green Kangaroo Paw
  • Anigozanthos pulcherrimus – Yellow Kangaroo Paw
  • Anigozanthos rufus – Red Kangaroo Paw
  • Anigozanthos humilis – Common Catspaw
Difference between a Kangaroo Paw and a Cats Paw by Bronwyn Ayre.png
The difference between a Kangaroo Paw and a Catspaw, B Ayre.

She explained there were also 25 types of hybrid Kangaroo Paws developed for gardens. Anigozanthos flavidus is the most popular Kangaroo Paw for gardens because it doesn’t get the rusty black spots that others do. She gave us the following six tips for growing our own:

  1. Collect fruits just before they open.
  2. Store for at least 8 weeks.
  3. Remove seeds from fruit.
  4. Bake seeds at 100°C for 3 hours.
  5. Soak in smoke water overnight (optional).
  6. Plant!
Spinebill pollinating a cats paw by Bronwyn Ayre .png
A Western Spinebill pollinating a Catspaw, B Ayre
Anigozanthos flavidus Tall Kangaroo Paw 2 by Rachel Green at Mundaring Shire offices.png
The popular Anigozanthos flavidus, R Green.

Bronwyn also explained how important bird pollination is in Australia and that bird and mammal pollination is vital in the south west of WA. In our own unique flora region, which stretches from Kalbarri to Esperance, 15 per cent of our plants are pollinated by birds and mammals. This is the highest percentage in the world, with other areas, such as Europe, only having four per cent of pollination by birds and mammals. Sadly, 40 per cent of our threatened plant taxa in the south west are those which are vertebrae pollinated. Bronwyn also explained that really old soils—such as we have here—for some, as yet unknown reason, seem to be associated with bird pollination.

Five common features of bird pollinated plants were identified:

  • Red colouration (but not always).
  • Abundant amounts of dilute nectar.
  • A lack of scent.
  • Perches—these are important because our birds don’t hover like hummingbirds and like to land to feed.
  • Hanging flowers, brush flowers, curved flowers or long tubular flowers.

Bronwyn compared differences between bird pollination and pollination by the European Honeybee, with some disturbing findings. Essentially, she found that European Honeybees cannot effectively replace birds as pollinators and there are negative genetic consequences of pollination by Honeybees. Her conclusion was that bird pollination is essential for Red and Green Kangaroo Paws for three key reasons. There is:

  • A higher fruit set for bird pollinated plants than those pollinated by Honeybees
  • There’s also a higher seed set
  • And a higher genetic diversity amongst offspring.

In contrast, Honeybees are ineffective pollinators, and although they aren’t completely emasculating flowers, they are lowering genetic diversity and seed production.

Which leaves me with the question: why do we allow so many people to keep hives for European Honeybees in natural bushland areas, including Kings Park?

Thank you so much Bronwyn for such a fascinating and brilliantly illustrated talk. It is available for all to watch on the DRB Nats YouTube channel:

Rachel Green