It is always a better idea to connect us from nature and what could be better time than spring? Spring is also the perfect time because it is when flowers and buds bloom. So, you can utilize this time to introduce you to pollination, the reason new plants grow. It is very important to understand to understand this concept for you so that you know how nature works in scientific yet so enigmatic way that everything out there is so set and fixed to do its own process, resulting in new flowers, fruits and vegetables. Because if it weren’t, life would just be a hypothesis and nothing else.
What is Pollination?
Pollination is the process & algorithm through which plants reproduce and new plants, fruits or flowers grow. The pollens are transferred to the female flower’s pistil and a seed is produced. The process of transferring the pollens to female flower is called pollination. Pistil is female reproductive part of flowers that contain ovary, style and stigma. Just like humans and animals, the special cells in pollens need to be transferred and combine in the female ovary to produce a seed, which in future may grow big enough to be a fruit, flower or plant. Nature has devised some clever ways to pollinate plants. Some plants even have self-pollination techniques to save their species.
When pollens don’t reach the female flowers and released in the air and thus, fall on the ground, they attach themselves to people, birds or insect to hitchhike a ride to female flowers. Upon finding the right spot, they move down through the pistil and reach to the eggs. This is how pollination takes place and a seed is formed. Yes, the probability of reaching female flowers and hence, creating a new seed is very less but nature has a clever plan to make things work, this way or another.
Types of Pollination
Agents which could help plants pollinate are called pollinators and helps in pollination algorithm and the best part is they are unaware of the deed they are doing. Usually, it is birds and bees, which do it for the plants when they suck the nectar or feed on the flower or plant. Anther in male flowers produces pollen. The pollen stick to the feet or the body of the birds or bee and when they sit on other flower, the pollens are transferred. Such type of pollination in which a living organism transfers the pollens is called biotic pollination. However, when plants do it without the assistance of any living organism, it is called abiotic pollination and to increase the chances of pollination, they have large female flowers with multiple stigmas. Wind and water are the two main things that abiotic pollination plants rely on. However, plants that do biotic pollination usually have one stigma.
Cross Pollination vs. Self Pollination
The names are self-explanatory here. Self pollination is when the plants don’t need living assistance or nature’s aid for the pollination process & algorithm. They can do it on their own as the pollen and seed is produced by the same plant, however, such plants aren’t much diverse genetically or strong. Self-pollination reduces a plant’s viability considerably. Hence, cross pollination is the more reliable and exact as well as sure-shot way to increase the chances of pollination and preserve the plant species. In cross pollination, the pollens are transferred to another plant. This ensures that the genetic material of plant isn’t tampered with or reduced. When the pollens are transferred to another flower, a rich and diverse array of genetic material is available for the plant and as a result, better and improved species can be created. In fact, roses of different colors and hybrid plants such as pluot are a result of cross pollination.
Types of Pollinators
Flowers’ beautiful colors attract different kinds of bees, insects and birds. The color and beautiful shape of the flowers are made and evolved in such a way that the particular species of insects and birds are attracted to them. For instance, fuchsia’s purple and red petals attract hummingbirds and as they suck on the nectar, the pollens stick from their heads and once, they go on to suck nectar from next flower, the pollens are transferred to it. Similarly, bees and butterflies are pollinators, but unlike hummingbirds, they pollinate a range of flowers.
It is very important to understand the importance of flowers in pollination and pollinators, because if the process or the agents cease to exist, we won’t have new crop of fruits, food and flowers at all. It is like wiping out an entire phase out of lifecycle. The onslaught of pesticides has caused the deterioration of natural habitat of pollinators like bee and insects. And this would have an impact on the growth of foods and fruits such as chocolate, apples and walnuts because as per scientists, over 75% of the food we have at dispense is because of pollinators. Moreover, pollination can also be interesting case study to understand symbiotic relationship between animals and plants where both are benefitting. Animals / birds are getting nectars from the plants whereas the plants are getting their pollens transferred. Nectar is not only sweet but also nutritious for birds, bees and butterflies. Butterflies and bees also lay their eggs on the plants.
What does a seed grow into? Understanding the Post-Pollination Cycle:
A seed grows into a fruit as you see with a berry or an apple. Pea is also a seed which grows into a pod. Any fruit or vegetable that contains seed is a result of pollination. If you eat a fruit and some of the seeds fall on a ground or if a fruit is matured, the seeds are released in the air, which land on the ground. Sometimes when animals eat a fruit, the poop out the seeds.
These seeds are carried away by wind, which is of course a rare chance. However, birds and bees transport them unknowingly to a far more adaptable place where there is enough light, optimal soil balance and nutrients.
What if the pollens fail to reach pistil and a flower remains unfertilized?
When a flower doesn’t get fertilized when bees or butterflies don’t come out due to rainy weather, the flower wilts and dies. The flower dies unfertilized without producing seeds.
Does every plant have both male and female flowers?
Do all plants have both male and female flowers?
Some plants such as cucumbers and pumpkins have both male and female flowers. The fertilized female flowers can be recognized with the bump at the bottom. The bump eventually grows up in a fruit.
What is a pollen basket?
Pollen baskets are found in the bees. It is a concave surface of the outer hind leg in the bees. It is surrounded by long curved hair on the periphery. When a bee feeds on nectar of the flower, the pollens stick to the hair and attach themselves to the surface.
What is a proboscis?
Butterflies and insects have long and thin tube in the mouth that is used to suck nectar from the flowers.
Pollination by Insects and Animals:
The color and fragrance as well as shape of flowers play an important role in attracting pollinators. The markings on petals attract butterflies and bees which can see ultraviolet colors. Bats also help in pollination. Flowers that get pollinated in night are usually very fragrant because their pollination is done by night-dwellers moths and bats. Hummingbirds use their long beaks to suck the nectar of bright-colored flowers and transfer their pollens in the process.
Pollination by Wind and Water
As explained earlier, winds also help in pollination. Flowers which get pollinated by wind aren’t much flashy because wind doesn’t need any visual appeal and it is non-discriminating! The pollens that are carried away by wind are dust-like and very dry. The wind-pollinated flowers can be easily recognized by their feather-like petals.
Water can also be a mean of pollination. Water-borne plants are pollinated by water.
Pollination by Insects:
Pollination is also done by insects such as butterflies and bees. Pollination by bees is in fact, the perfect example of a mutual symbiotic relationship. When a honey bee feeds on the nectar of the plant, the pollens cling to its hind legs. Bees have pollen baskets on its legs where the pollens are stored. Since pollens get stuck to its body, some of them are carried away to the bee hive while some of them are dusted away from its body as it hops from one flower to another in search of more nectar. It needs to be noted that no pollinator, be it bee or bat, human or wind, water or butterfly, pollination isn’t done on the purpose. There is no special effort on their part to make sure that the pollens reach to the female flower. It all happens naturally and unknowingly.
However, there are some exceptions to this mutual (!) love of bees and plans too. Take corn for instance. Corn is a wind-pollinated plant but bees feed on corn too and while it feeds on the plant, corn doesn’t get much benefit out of them.
Similarly, alfalfa flowers have unique slapping mechanism in place to ensure that the pollens stick to a bee’s body which has come to feed its nectar. Bees don’t like to be slapped with the anther and hence, they learn to leave the plant alone in due time. Moreover, bees also find a way to chew the flower in a way that the anther remains on a side and they can sip on nectar easily without being slapped. While bee’s work is done here as it gets to sip on nectar, the pollination doesn’t occur and the flower remains unfertilized and eventually become dead in due time.
So, pollination can be treated as an accident that is favorable for the mankind as well as flowers. Be it moth, wasp, beetles or flies, pollination is just a side process and not the main act. Main act is the feed for what the insect or the rest of pollinator species thrive on.
However, there are some kind-hearted fellows in insect species too, which make sure that when they are getting to eat the sweetest of nectar, they return the favor in kind because this is the question of survival for both of the species. Yucca flowers can only be pollinated by yucca moths. The design of yucca flowers is such that they yucca moths need to go to the ovary of female flower. The moth also needs to go to the bottom of the flower because the female moth lays its eggs there. During this process, the flower gets pollinated and produces seeds. It is an interesting fact to know that the caterpillars of yucca moth only eat the seeds of yucca flowers. Some of the seeds are consumed by the moth whereas the rest are released.
You will be amazed to know that some flowers need the vibration of bees to release the pollen from anther, the tubular male part. This part opens on one end. The bees vibrate and buzz. For humans, it might be a minor inconvenience but for anther, it is an intense sound. Using their indirect flight muscles, the bees create sound that is intense vibration and cause the anther to release the pollens. If you ever have a chance to listen to the bees causing a pollen sac to burst open and the buzz they normally make, you can easily distinguish the two.
Understanding Asexual Reproduction in Plants:
Nature has devised asexual reproduction for plants that don’t have pollination mechanism in place for the preservation of the species. In plants like spider plant, strawberry, potatoes and dahlias, runners and tubers are the way to propagate and reproduce asexually. Cutting and grafting are also two methods that humans use to produce large number of similar plants.
When a plant is produced using artificial propagation, the plants reproduced are genetically identical to each other and called clones.
This has been a wonderful method to preserve plants which were endangered. However, not all plants can be artificially propagated but this has at least made sure that the good features in plant can be passed on from the parent plant to clones.
How Pollination is done?
Pollinators like butterflies, bees and birds feed on nectar. Nectar is sweet syrup, which is nutritional for them as well. It is found in a sac that is located at the base of pistil. Usually, pollinators hop from one flower to another in search of nectar and in the process, the pollens from anther get stick to their body parts or pollen baskets, in the case of bees. As they reach out to another flower for more nectar, the pollens are dusted off. If the pollens make it nearby the opening of the pistil, they reach the egg very easily. The flowers get fertilized and a seed is formed. However, sometimes the pollens are dusted off on land and don’t make it to the female flowers as well.
Insects like butterflies have proboscis to suck nectar. Proboscis is a thin and tubular structure that forms the part of their mouth. This helps the insects to reach to the bottom of the sac where nectar is based. When a butterfly tries to reach to the nectar, the pollens also get attached to its body. Once the insect has finished feeding on the nectar, the proboscis coils back to the immediate previous position. This results in only a smaller part of pollens being transferred to a receptive female flower.
Why Pollinators are Necessary?
Pollinators are important because at least 90 food crops just alone in North America are pollinated by them. In world, about three-fourth of flower species depend on them for their future generation.
Apple, almonds, pumpkins, melons, peaches, strawberries, chocolate and blueberries are some of the examples of food and fiber crops that would cease to exist if pollinators wouldn’t do their work.
Honey bee is one of the major contributors of billions of dollars production of crops every year just in America. Imagine the contribution the species is making all over the world!
Why Pollinators are in Danger?
Urbanization and unplanned civilizations have resulted in destruction of their natural habitat. There has been a steep decline in the population of pollinators all over the world except Antarctica. Overuse of pesticides and invasion of weeds, endemic disease and parasites are also some of the major reasons that the pollinators are in danger.
What’s pollinator Syndrome?
Flower characteristics and their appeal to particular pollinator are studied under pollinator syndrome. The traits range from flowers’ fragrance, time of emitting the fragrance, color of petals, shape of flowers, type of pollen, location of species, quantity of nectar and many more. These factors are very important as they describe the combination of success of flowers getting pollinated by their pollinators.
For instance, red, purple and fuchsia flowers attract humming birds whereas Bright white, yellow, blue, or UV-colored blooms attract honey bees. Similarly, moths are attracted towards white, pale red, purple and pink flowers. Bats usually pollinate flowers of purple, green and white blooms that emanate strong odor especially during nights.
Pollination and Our Ecosystem:
Pollination isn’t new phenomena. It has been here since the advent of first plant and it is just that we came to know about it later on. The agricultural value of pollination and pollinators can’t be underestimated because as discussed earlier, our crops, be it food plants, fibers or medicinal plants, depend a great deal on them to preserve their future species. These pollinators form a significant part of our ecosystem and thus, we need to value them. A honey bee might not sound so important in the grand scheme of things but if they are scraped from the ecosystem, the crops that depend entirely on them for the future generation will be wiped off from the face of earth too.
Even if you don’t survive on vegetables or crops alone and are non-vegetarian, don’t forget that beef, pork or chicken you eat survive on crops, grains and pulses that these pollinators help to pollinate.
Every organism, be it small or large, forms a vital part of this ecosystem and has its role to maintain the balance.
The stability of food web is maintained by every organism involved, right from a honey bee to us. This can be well-explained by taking example of a tree, which becomes a habitat of a range of species in its course. A tree’s foliage is used as a feed by insects. The fruit of the tree is used by birds. It depends on wasps and moth for pollination however. If it doesn’t happen, the tree won’t be able to pollinate, which in return, can imbalance the entire system.
Hence, pollinators are lot more than just caterpillars or moth. They aren’t just part of food cycle either. They are the part of ecosystem, which is important because even if one of species is wiped out, the ecosystem will clash and it is going to impact all of us.
What you can do for kids pollination guide?
Apart from telling them the benefit of pollination and shedding light on the process, you can add fun element to the learning by asking them to draw flowers and recognize their pollinators. This will be a fun learning for them. You can also create a table and ask them to mix-and-match the fragrance and color with the pollinators, which the flower attracts owing to its characteristics. You can ask them to draw a cardboard sketch of pollinators and explain their life cycle.
The pollination guide for kids comes handy to educate them about such an important topic and aware them about the species that have been doing a thankless job since the inception of mankind. It also brings them closer to nature as they can understand the various facets of nature in an easier way, without the textbook language and in a fun way.