pollination

Pollination bees

What is pollination?

pollen on flower

Definition:

Pollination is the process prerequisite to fertilization of flowers. The transfer of pollen from an anther (male reproductive organ) to the stigma (female reproductive organ) in angiosperms or from the microsporangium (male reproductive organ) to the micropyle (female reproductive organ) in gymnosperms.

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Confused yet? Obviously there were a lot of unfamiliar biology words in there but the process can be simplified quite a bit. Pollination is needed for flowering plants to reproduce. Pollination occurs when pollen is transferred from one part of the plant to another. This can happen in several ways, pollinators (bees, butterflies, and other insects), wind, hand pollination, and self pollination. When plants are sufficiently pollinated they are able to produce bigger better tasting fruits/vegetables and more flowers. The picture to the left shows what happens when a raspberry bush is insufficiently pollinated vs. pollinated.

Pollen vs. Nectar

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Pollen

Pollen grains are also called micro spores. Microspores or pollen are male spores that are able to be transferred to the female portion of a plant. when a pollen grain and egg cell nucleus combine it creates a diploid zygote cell.

What really matters is that pollen plays an important role in the ecosystem. It not only provides a way for plants to reproduce (which is a big deal when it comes to producing fruits and vegetables). Not only that but it acts as a high protein food for insects. Bees use pollen to feed their offspring. Growing bees require a large amount of protein to develop properly.

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Nectar

Nectar is a secretion by the  special glands or organs  of a flower called the nectaries. It is essentially a sugar rich solution that attracts pollinators. It’s role in plant reproduction is to attract the pollinators that will move the pollen from flower to flower.

Nectar attracts multiple species of pollinators but the honey bees use nectar combined with an enzyme they produce in their saliva to create honey. After this nectar/enzyme solution is placed in a honey comb it is still a thin consistency. The bees will flap their wings and concentrate the solution into what we know as honey. They will cap off the honey comb with beeswax  and it will stay preserved until the bees need to use their “food storage” or until we harvest the honey for human consumption.

Types of Pollination

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Self Pollination:

Self pollination occurs when the pollen from one flower pollinates the same flower or the same individual plant. There are some species of plants that are capable of self pollination because they contain both the male and female gametes. When pollen is transferred to the same flower it is called Autogamy. When pollen is transferred to another flower on the same plant it is called Geitonogamy.

The term “self” pollination seems to imply that no outside force is required to help pollinate the plant. Something most people don’t realize about self pollination is that it still requires an outside source to dislodge the pollen and allow it to fall into the female organs of the plant.  The wind, animals brushing/bumping the plants and bees/other pollinators all help dislodge the pollen. This facilitates the self pollination process. Bees and other pollinating insects are the greatest facilitators of self pollinating plants. The term self pollinating only refers to the ability for the plant to be fertilized by its own pollen; where as cross pollinating plants require pollen from another plant to be fertilized.

Some examples of self pollinating plants include: Apricots, Figs, few varieties of Peaches, some varieties of Plum like Stanley, Green Gage, Italian Prune, some varieties of Apple trees, flowers like Rose (Rosa spp.), food crops like beans, peppers tomatoes, Orchids, Violets, and Sweet Peas.

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Cross Pollination:

Cross pollination occurs when pollen from one plant is transferred to another plant. This process is also called allogamy. Cross pollination requires help from an outside source (abiotic or biotic agents). These agents move pollen from one plant to another.

Some examples of these agents include: wind, water, honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees (native bees), some wasps, butterflies, bats, snails and other animals.

Only about 10% of plants are pollinated without animal agents. This means that the majority of our food supply is affected by pollinators. The bad news is that pollinators, especially the bees, are in decline. Read more about why they are declining here.

Why Pollinators Transfer Pollen

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As a general rule pollination happens as a byproduct of animals and insects finding food for themselves and their offspring. Mother nature has worked out an ingenious system to use the self survival techniques of pollinators to play double duty by also helping the plants thrive. (A win-win situation for sure).

Pollinators are drawn into the blossoms by the sweet nectar. While they are collecting the delicious and tantalizing nectar they also get some pollen thrown in the mix. On the next blossom they visit they will bring with them pollen from the previous blossom and this pollen transfer allows for fertilization of the plant. Pollinators don’t think about pollinating it is just something that results from their activity on the flower. Well done mother nature…mission accomplished!

How Pollinators Transfer Pollen

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Every type of pollinator transfers pollen differently based on their physical character traits and natural collecting practices. This also means each pollinator has its own plant preferences. You can read more about the individual attributes of pollinators and what flowers they prefer here.

The majority of pollinators have hairs on their bodies that attract pollen with static charge (solitary bees, butterflies and some moths). Other pollinators like honeybees collect pollen mix it with saliva and place it on specialized structures on their legs. Beetles eat their ways through petals and dedicate making them known as “mess and soil” pollinators.

Hand Pollination

Pollination is necessary for our food supply. If there aren’t bees, butterflies, birds ect.. to pollinate that leaves us humans. Below is a video demonstrating some ways to pollinate plants by hand.

Does the idea of hand pollination seem like a little too much to work? Thats because it is! Utilize natures pollinators instead! Not only is it less work they are more efficient and it helps the environment in the process. To order the optimal natural pollinator click here.

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