Roses are red…because they’re yucky?

A new study from researchers in Australia has found that red coloration in flowers is used to deter herbivores. Large red flowers have increased levels of cyanide, and herbivores learn to associate the bitter taste of cyanide with the color. Isn’t evolution cool?

I wonder if all red flowers are honest signalers, then. That is, do all red flowers have higher levels of cyanide, or are some just using Batesian mimicry in order to avoid being eaten as well? I smell a good research project…that someone else can do, because plants are boring.

One thing bugs me, though. The article claims this “disproves” the idea that colorful flowers are used to attract pollinators, but I disagree. Colors can be used for different reasons in different plants. Just because red acts as a warning doesn’t mean other colors aren’t used as attractors. If anything, it just adds another layer of complexity to how flowers convey information.


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