Pollination in plants is the process where pollen is transferred from the anther, the male part of a flower, to the stigma, the female part of a flower. Pollen can be transferred to one plant or even a nearby plant so that they can get fertilized and make more flowers. This happens in plants that have flowers called angiosperms.
The word ‘pollen’, was used in science writing since 1760 and means “the fertilizing part of flowers.” Earlier in history it meant “dust or fine flour.”
Pollination is a very important part of the life cycle of plants and they cannot produce fruit or even seeds unless they are pollinated. Pollen is transferred by pollinators, which can be the wind, or other ways. Once pollination takes place, seeds begin to grow. Pollination is an important part of a plant’s life cycle, from flowering plants to non-flowering ones.
Pollination usually occurs naturally and most often it is due to insects, birds, and small mammals. The sticky pollen from flowering plants clings to their bodies, where it is carried from one plant to another. Honeybees do more pollination than any other insect, which includes ants, beetles, butterflies and moths. Birds are also responsible for pollination, especially hummingbirds. Small mammals, such as bats, are pollinators as well.
The color or markings on a flower helps attract and guide insects to them for pollination. Bees are often attracted to bright blue and violet colors. Hummingbirds like red, pink, fuchsia, or purple flowers. Butterflies enjoy bright colors like yellow, orange, pink and red as well as fragrant ones.
A flower’s fragrance is another way that animals are attracted to plants, especially at night when moths and bats are out.
The way in which a flower is shaped also attracts pollinators. Butterflies prefer flowers with flat petals that act like a landing strip for them to sit on. Long, tubular flowers attract hummingbirds as their long beaks can easily fit into the flower when gathering nectar.
There are two methods of pollination. Cross-pollination is the most common and occurs when the pollen goes from the stamen of one flower to the pistil of another flower. Self-pollination takes place when pollen is transferred from the stamen of one flower to the pistil of the same flower or plant.
Pollination happens via the wind. Wind-blown pollen is normally dry and dust-like. Wind-pollinated plants are often plainer looking with feathery-looking flowers. Many trees and grasses rely on wind for pollination too. Pollination can occur by other means for example, water can carry pollen from one plant to another. This often takes place with pond plants. Even people transfer pollen as they handle flowers in the garden.
Bats pollinate more than 300 species of fruit, including mangoes, bananas and guavas. Some bats have very long tongues, similar to the moth’s’ proboscis. They can also hover, like hummingbirds.
Studies have shown that where the plant has a little perch on it like on the South African rat’s tail plant (Babiana ringens), the rate of pollination doubles as the bird can perch on it while getting the nectar.
Two of the world’s largest flowers, Rafflesia arnoldii and Amorphophallus titanum are very stinky and also are also called Corpse flowers. They attract flies that pollinate the plants. Most fly-pollinated flowers use the nasty smell to bring in the bugs. The paw-paw, a fruit native to the United States, also depends on fly pollination. To improve production of fruit, people will often hang bits of rotten meat from trees to attract flies. Sounds pretty gross!
The world’s largest known pollinator is the Black-and-white ruffed lemurs. They open the flowers of the Traveller’s Palm with their fingers and push their long snouts into the opened flowers to get that sweet nectar. When they do that, the flowers’ pollen coats their fur. The lemur then transports the pollen to other flowers and fertilizes them.
The American Journal of Botany says the palm may have evolved specifically to depend on the lemurs. The palms’ flowers now have a strong outer coat that only lemurs can peel open. The flowers are tough enough to withstand the large lemurs’ feeding and produce enough nectar to satisfy the animals’ hunger. The lemurs, in turn, depend on the nectar at certain times of the year when fruit is scarce.
Bees have always been recognised as the main pollinators but some plants like tomatoes are best pollinated by bumblebees as bees can’t shake the plant like a bumblebee does. The anther of the tomato flower will only release its pollen if it is vibrated. This is called buzz pollination and requires bumblebees to shake it in a certain way.
Every species of fig tree depends on its own specific wasp variety for pollination. Figs have no visible flowers – the flowers hide inside the fruit. Female wasps squeeze into the fruit through a tiny hole, feast on the secret flowers’ nectar and lay their eggs. As they feed they pollinate the flowers then fly to another fig tree, carrying some of the first tree’s pollen, which helps the trees’ to survive and thrive.
There are our top facts on pollination! Hope you enjoyed them. Do you have any others to add?