It’s National Pollinator Week!

Pollinator Week 2011

Once again, It’s time to celebrate the little animals that…facilitate plant sex by moving plant sperm around.

I’ve discovered over time that a lot of people don’t actually know what pollination is, other than it’s something that’s needed to get fruit. That’s certainly true; apples, bananas, blueberries, melons, peaches, pumpkins, almonds, and a whole bunch of other plants need to be pollinated for us to get the food we like.

That’s the what of pollination.  But the WHY seems to be left out.  Plants need lovin’ too, and the options for them to get their freak on are somewhat limited.  It’s tough to “throw a leg over” when you don’t actually have any legs.

Pollination = sex for plants.  There. I’ve said it.

Sure, you can toss your pollen out on the wind and hope it lands in the right place.  And for a lot of plants, evergreens in particular, this works just fine.   Most spring days my car looks like there was a pine tree bukakke fest.

That methodology results in a lot of wasted gametes (plant sperm) though, so for nearly all flowering plants, insects or other pollinators are needed for plant nookie.   Think of bees and other pollinators as little flying plant wangs.

Most flowers contain both male and female sexual parts, and while plants can self-pollinate, it’s a lot more enjoyable productive to have a second (or third…or fourth…) party involved. Cross-pollination also reduces inbreeding.

Plants attract insect pollinators with lovely colorful displays, special smells, and gifts of nectar or extra pollen that makes a nice snack. And in return plants receive a sort of sexual courier service.  This partnership has been going on for over 100 million years, and has resulted in amazing modifications in both plants and animals.

Without pollinators, some of the finest things in life would not exist:

Chocolate.
Coffee.
Tequila.

All brought to you by a bug-facilitated bonk.

The Xerces Society has many free and wonderful publications on how to plant habitat for pollinators. Why not check those out and establish a horizontal hula zone in your backyard?  And don’t forget to give your sweetheart a bouquet of plant genitalia.

6 thoughts on “It’s National Pollinator Week!

  1. I always think it interesting (and confusing) to compare reproduction in two of the most successful vascular plant groups. Orchids, the testicles of the plant world, are frugal with their sperm packets or crumbs and depend entirely on pollination by animals (mostly insects). Supposedly, there are 20-25,000 species of orchids – about 10% of vascular plant diversity. Then there are the husk flowers of the ‘Glumiflorae’ and other Poales: grasses (~10,000 species), sedges (~5000 species), rushes (~400 species), and a handful of other groups (e.g. cattails, bur reed, pipeworts and the like) with a few thousand species, so in aggregate approaching the diversity of the orchids. Some of these are insect pollinated, but it seems to be only a few derived groups – the rest just dump their male fitness on the wind. Both groups are monocots too, which makes it even more perplexing.

  2. Love this blog. It’s the “birds and the bee’s” talk but for flowers. Great info and fun discussion. Keep rockin Bug Girl!

  3. A small point that you alluded to: Arabica coffee (high grown, high quality; Coffea arabica) is self-pollinating, but is higher-yield when pollinated by insects. Robusta coffee (lower altitude, often used in low quality coffees; C. canephora) requires cross-pollination.

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