Though many people know that pollination is the recurring process that plants go through, very few people are aware of the systems that go into this process. Too often, people are intimidated by the preconceived notion that pollination is a complex, complicated procedure. However, this is not the case. Rather, the process is very familiar to us because it is so similar to human reproductive processes.
For instance, for pollination to occur, pollen must be transported from anthers, the male reproductive structures of a plant species, to stigmas, the female reproductive structures of that plant species. This process is cross-pollination because it involves more than one plant, as opposed to self-pollination which occurs through only a single plant. Much like the movement of sperm from a male to a female, this migration of pollen fertilizes the eggs of the female in a plant species, allowing it to reproduce.
For the cycle to begin, a pollinator, such as a honeybee, must have an incentive to partake in pollination. So, what is the engine for honeybees to land on a plant? The answer is simple: pollinators benefit from the nutrition of the nectar and pollen provided by flowers. The nectar contains sugars and carbohydrates for the bees, and, meanwhile, pollen provides fats, vitamins and supplementary minerals.
Plants, in return, must attract the pollinators to them. Plants have specific adaptations to meet this purpose, such as their vivid, eye-catching colors and their sweet and strong scents. They may also have adaptations specifically geared towards attracting a certain type of pollinator. Honeybees, for example, have vision that is trichromatic. In other words, their vision is based on three colors: ultraviolet, blue, and green. As a result, honeybees are more likely to visit plants of these colors.
Likewise, honeybees generally visit plants that are not deep because of their short tongue lengths, while bumble bees have the ability to visit longer, tubular shaped flowers because their tongues are longer. Scents of flowers and time of day also make plants more apt to attract certain types of pollinators, and these adaptations are highly individualized according to each plant species’ needs.
When these steps are completed, the technical steps of pollination can finally occur. When a honeybee lands on a plant to collect nectar, the hairs on its body latch onto pollen in the stamens of the flower. When the insect later flies to another, female plant to collect nectar, it unintentionally releases the pollen onto the stigma. When the pollen is in contact with the stigma, fertilization is possible, and the plant can develop fruits and seeds.
Though the process varies slightly depending on the type of pollinator, which can range from insects to birds and even bats, the steps and outcomes of the process remain very similar. If pollination is successfully carried out, plants can produce the fruits and seeds, including apples, avocados and even coffee.
Given the importance of this process to both pollinators and plant species, it is critical that we understand the process and utilize this information to promote effective pollination. For example, with the knowledge that vivid colors and strong scents attract honeybees to flowers, we can plant pollinator gardens, which have a variety of plant species with ranges of colors and smells, to attract pollinators to plants.
“What Is Pollination?” What Is Pollination? United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.
“What Are Pollinators and Why Do We Need Them? (Center for Pollinator Research).” Center for Pollinator Research (Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences). N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.