It’s a Sticky Situation

The Befaria racemosa – Tarflower is a mystery! It’s a beautiful flowering shrub that has these amazing white flowers with hints of pink coloration. 

So what is so fascinating about this plant- the sticky substance it produces. In a research article Adhesive Strength of the Insect-Trapping Glue of a Plant {Befaria racemosa)1 THOMAS EISNER2 AND DANIEL J. ANESHANSLEY23 from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, state: 

The buds, abaxial surface of petals, and developing fruit of the ericaceous shrub Befaria racemosa are coated with a viscous adhesive material of unknown chemical nature, in which insects, including such robust species as honey bees and horse flies, may become inescapably trapped in large numbers. 

You can Google this title: Adhesive Strength of the Insect-Trapping Glue of a Plant to read the article.

There’s not alot of research conducted about this plant and why it has that sticky substance, only hypothetical explanations. But all things in research are speculative, especially in nature. You can ask all the questions you want, but getting a response well, it’s a little difficult.

This is why research takes years and years to collaborate to gather assumptions or hypothetical reasonings. Why this is that or that is why that does that, it is not an easy task to finalize the terms or agree on the results. And by that, I thank those people that have dedicated thousands of hours to do so.

Adhesive Strength of the Insect-Trapping Glue of a Plant ..
the sticky substance is to distract nectar thieves, like ants. It could protect the plant’s reproductive structures against herbivores, including bud and fruit borers. Protection might also be afforded against petal feeders or against nectar “thieves,” such as ants (Proctor and Yeo 1972).
To deter herbivores make sense to me because grasshoppers love flower petals. The Tarflower has a perfect adaptation to keep its beautiful flowers and attract pollinators, of course at the sacrifice of other insects.

Also noted is that when the petal falls with the insect still attached it adds nutrients to the soil for the plant. Well, that would need more research.

Now all this being said let’s see if we can develop some hypothetical reasons why this flowering shrub produces this substance.

You’re the researcher and have been tasked to find possible answers to this pondering question- why does the Tarflower produce a sticky substance?

What do you need to know first before starting your observations? When it blooms! So in order to examine this super cool shrub, you would need to know its blooming season and that would be April through August. You are in luck, now is a perfect time to begin your amazing adventure!

Green Lynx spider on a Tarflower

A few questions to get you started:

  • Why does this plant produce this adhesive substance?
  • How does it produce this adhesive substance?
  • Why is the adhesive substance only on the bud and underneath the petal and not the top?
  • If it’s not a carnivorous plant, like sundews and butterworts, then what’s the reason for the adhesive substance?

Have fun and if you would like to share your conclusions, I would love to read them!

Be safe in your travels!

2 replies

  1. This is one of my absolute favorite plants!

    As to your questions, well, I’ll ponder them but don’t sit by your phone waiting for any response! I’ll be too busy outdoors searching for this beauty.

    Great post!


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