Investigating how plants use colour to attract pollinators: Introducing STEM Careers


This resource is part of the SAPS Careers in Science series, a set of resources to support science teachers in integrating STEM careers information with practical activities. This resource is aimed at post 16 students.

In this investigation, students look at the way in which flowering plants use colour to attract pollinators, and particularly bees. They carry out a variety of short practicals and research activities, designed to allow students to gain a deeper understanding of adaptation, evolution and biophysics – understanding how physics is used in living systems.

The investigation is put in a STEM Careers context through a case study of Dr Beverley Glover, a plant scientist whose main research interest is in the evolution and development of features of flowers which encourage pollination.

The colour of flowers is not as simple as it may at first appear. The colour of different flowers have evolved to attract specific pollinators, which do not necessarily have similar colour vision to humans, and may see beyond our visible spectrum. Bees have photoreceptors that are most sensitive to green, blue and ultraviolet, while many birds can see from red to ultraviolet. Although most flowers use pigments to reflect colours by absorbing different wavelengths of light, Beverley and her fellow scientists have only just discovered that some use structural colour by making diffraction gratings in their epidermal cells.

This resource includes full teachers’ notes, foundation, higher, extension and plenary activities, a case study, a students’ worksheet and technical notes for the practicals.

Starter activity: Career case study and questions
Foundation activity: Looking beyond the visible spectrum; flower colour by adding or subtracting
Higher activity: Reading a popular science article
Extension activity: What features attract pollinators to flowers?
Plenary activity: Debate on ‘Do bees matter?’



Careers education

Pupils should develop interest in and enthusiasm for science, including developing an interest in further study and careers in sciences.


How science works

Pupils should use knowledge and understanding to pose scientific questions, define scientific problems, present scientific arguments and scientific ideas.



Pupils will know that:

  • adaptations of organisms to their environments can be behavioural or physiological as well as anatomical
  • adaptation and selection are major components of evolution and make a significant contribution to the diversity of living organisms.

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