Smart blue tits are masters of the red-hot pokers

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Red-hot pokers are familiar garden plants with their stout, upright stems baring bright orange, yellow and white flower spikes.

There are many species which are hardy in our gardens and by selecting different species a succession can be in flower from early summer right through until early winter.

Although almost all the wild species are found growing in Africa, many are remarkably hardy and tough plants,

They can sometimes be found growing ‘wild’ on our roadside verges where gardeners have dumped out garden waste.

Here they can compete successfully with our rough roadside native plants but they are unlikely ever to become much of a problem as I have never seen a self sown seedling, either in gardens or out in the countryside.

The flowers consist of a simple, dense cone of downward pointing tubular flowers.

In their native Africa they have evolved to be pollinated by birds, especially Sunbirds, which sit and clasp the stout stem and reach up into the flower to drink the nectar and at the same time collect a dusting of pollen on their heads, which they will transport to complete the pollination of the next plant they visit. In the Americas humming birds pollinate many plants and fill this same niche as the sunbirds, but humming birds are not found in Africa only the Americas.

Here in Berwickshire we do not have native plants adapted for bird pollination, but our blue tits appear to recognise the opportunities provided by the red-hot pokers as a good source of food and they often visit the flowers, clasping the stem like a sunbird and drinking the nectar.

As far as I am aware only the tits have mastered this trick - smart?

There are about 70 wild species of red-hot pokers, with the majority, 47 species, found in eastern South Africa and Lesotho.

Most of the really hardy species come from the Drakensberg Mountains in Lesotho where they are common and can grow in bold and colourful, extensive communities.

The scientific name for red-hot poker is Kniphofia. Here we do not pronounce the K and call them niphofia. Professor Kniphof (1704-1763) whose name is commemorated by this genus, was the profesor of medicine at Erfurt, Germany, and over on the continent they pronounce the K - Kniphofia. I suppose they should know!

The next meeting of the Scottish Wildlife Trust is in Duns Parish Church Hall tonight (Thursday, November 6) at 7.30pm when Dr David Long will talk on ‘Bryophytes from the Borders and Beyond’.