Thursday, August 19, 2010


From full, luscious gardens to cheerful planters to agricultural fields, flowering plants are used to brighten our landscape, lighten our spirits, and provide a bounty of food.  As the foundation of every food web, plant life is an essential component of many organism's diet, humans included.

Some of our most beloved fruits and vegetables and most important varieties of wildlife foods are created by flowering plants thanks to the miracle of pollination.  Pollination is generally referred to as the process in which pollen is transferred in plants, enabling fertilization and reproduction[1].  This process is important in flowering plants because pollen contains the male reproductive material of the plant.  Without the transfer of pollen, the vast majority of flowering plants are incapable of reproduction.

There are a few different ways in which pollen is effectively transferred between plants: with animal assistance and without animal assistance.  Of all the flowering plants, only 10% of them are pollinated without animal assistance[1].  The most common method of achieving pollination within this group is with the aid of the wind, though a few plants use the assistance of water. 

Wind-assisted plants tend to produce copious amounts of lightweight pollen grains from clusters of generally unattractive-looking flowers.  The high volume of pollen disbursed into the air helps to ensure that the pollen grains land upon the female portion of the plant.  Unfortunately for many humans, we often succumb to the symptoms of hay fever during periods of the year when wind-pollinated plants reach their reproductive peak.  Spring allergy sufferers are generally agitated by tree species like conifers, oak, and birch, as well as grasses.  In the fall, ragweed and other common, but inconspicuous, weed species distribute their pollen on the wind.

The bulk of flowering plants are pollinated with the assistance of animals.  There are about 200,000 varieties of animal pollinators in the world[1].  Most are insects, but others include various species of birds and bats.

Animal-assisted plants generally produce heavy, sticky, protein-rich pollen grains[2].  The flowers of plants utilizing animal assistance are often shaped to accomodate easy access by the pollinator, and there is often a lure, such as scent or the presence of nectar, which helps attract the pollinator.  Sometimes, the pollen alone can be the attractant for species interested in consuming the plant pollen.  In any manner, the animal visits flower after flower to collect its reward while inadvertantly moving pollen from one place to another.

In late summer, there's a plethora of flowers now in full bloom in our gardens.  Here's a look at who's been pollinating our flowers:

Bees and Butterflies


Sweat Bees


-Adam Zorn, Naturalist


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