Rodent pollinated Massonia.

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:

Johnson and Pauw

  • 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.

Massonia whiteheadia (syn Whiteheadia bifolia)

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 pustulata

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.

Massonia depressa – note the resemblance to the Protea flower above
Photo 17-02-2018, 13 15 00
Massonia depressa – maroon form

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:

newpicsmay2006 043
Protea nana

protea nana poll


  1. I’ve never heart of rodent pollination before. Does this mean that you will be enticing the mice to come in the greenhouse and act as your worker bees…as it were? Now you will have to include a mouse in your drawing of a Massonia! Your photos are beautiful, as always!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Linda 😊😊
      We do sometimes get woodmice in the greenhouse and they nibble plants but do no serious damage. They and voles are a menace out in the garden and frequently bite stems off some plants just out of devilment and leave them lying next to the plant. Cheeky little beggars too – I was once in the greenhouse and one wandered in, snuffled around by my feet for a while then wandered out again!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I never knew that. When we noticed fewer bees in our vegetable garden we used a tiny bit of unraveled string to make a brush and tried to pollinate them ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was aware of rodents as pollinators but never seen any pictures. This was very interesting to see as well as read. And as always lovely flower pictures. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Lisa. I was suprised to find out about the rodent pollination of Protea nana as it does not have the ‘look’ of a rodent pollinated plant. πŸ˜„πŸ˜


  4. Fantastic. … rodents! I went to South Africa last April to visit my stepchildren and we were very lucky and had a wonderful tour in the Botanic Gardens in Cape Town but also right out in the wild where we saw thousands of Protea growing …. just stunning and so unexpected! We just never get to see them in the U.K. Lovely post … thanks so much β˜€οΈβ˜€οΈβ˜€οΈ

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a lovely comment. Thank you KatieπŸ˜„.

      A visit to the Cape nearly 20 years ago is what kickstarted my interest in South African plants. I yearn to go back. The Kirstenbosch botanicsl garden in Cape Town is the most gorgeous location and the best maintained botanical garden I have ever visited.
      I have grown a few Protea but they take up a lot of greenhouse space. They grow outside in some mild parts of SW Englsnd and in the Scilly isles but are definitely a greenhouse plant for the rest of us!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, the gardens are truly wonderful … funnily enough my sister is there as we speak. It’s quite an adventure for her as she tends to prefer Madeira and Sardinia. I’m hoping she’ll go to the gardens.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh! So cool that you shared a picture of how the mouse actually pollinates the flower! I remember from another Massonia post of yours that you already told us about it, but seeing it actually happen is something quite different! And I love how Susan wants to be a bumblebee – I just love them and could literally watch them for hours doing their wonderful work. I always make sure to plant lots of poppies on my sills because they seem to really like it. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Came here through another blog when I saw your comment because I wondered why I hadn’t seen your posts in my feed only to find I wasn’t following you! So confused…anyway I have some catching up to do on your blog now but wow rodent pollination!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Fantastic!!! What an amazing post – so interesting and the little mousee is soooo cute πŸ™‚ Those eyes!! and beeeeeautiful shots Darren.

    Liked by 1 person

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