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Ever wonder why bees are attracted to specific flowers? We will look at why certain animals are drawn to certain plants and other methods of pollination in this lesson. You may like flowers because they look pretty and smell nice; however, flowers don’t just look pretty so that we can enjoy them.

The petals of flowers actually help plants reproduce. We will review some key parts of flowers before looking at how flowers are pollinated as well as the organisms that help in this process.

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Review of Flower Parts

The sterile and fertile parts of flowers needed for pollination
Labeled flower parts

Previously, we covered the parts of flowers, including the sterile and fertile parts. The calyx and corolla are both sterile but still important. The calyx protects the flower when it is still a bud. The corolla, which we will talk about more later, contains the petals.

The fertile parts of the flower are broken into male (androecium) and female (gynoecium) layers. The male parts are vital to the process of pollination, as they produce pollen. The female parts are important because they receive the pollen.

Pollination and Fertilization

Pollination is when pollen is placed on the stigma. Remember that the anther produces pollen and is part of the androecium whorl, while the stigma is the top sticky part of the gynoecium whorl. We can see the stigma in this picture here. It is important to note that pollination is not the same as fertilization.

Fertilization is the union of the egg and sperm. In plants, this may happen after pollination; however, pollination doesn’t always result in fertilization.

The wind and animals are two of the primary ways in which pollen is spread
How pollination occurs

Methods of Pollination

Now that we have the difference between pollination and fertilization down, let’s take a look at how pollination occurs. There are a wide variety of ways that flowers try to spread their pollen, including using wind and animals. Depending on the method of pollination, the flower will have specific adaptations to help in this process.

Pollination by Wind

Wind pollination occurs when plants are generally close together.

This way, there isn’t a long distance that the pollen has to move when it goes from the anther of one flower to the stigma of another. Plants that use wind for pollination are the ones to blame if you have spring allergies or hay fever. Ragweed uses wind for pollination and notoriously causes allergies.

Another frustrating side effect of wind pollination is the yellow-green film that may cover your car or the ground in the spring. This is actually the pollen from plants that use wind for transport.The flowers of plants, such as grasses, oaks and cottonwoods that use wind for pollination are often small, greenish, and odorless. Because they do not have to attract pollinators, energy is not wasted making pretty or colorful petals. Also, these plants often have incomplete flowers. Remember that incomplete flowers are lacking one or more whorl.

With wind pollination, the flowers most often either lack the male or female whorl in order to avoid self-pollination.

Bees pollinate flowers more than any other type of insect
Bees and pollen

Pollination by Animals

Animals play several vital roles in helping plants reproduce. While we will focus on how they help with pollination, it is also good to know that they help with seed dispersal. When animals eat the fruits of plants, they often move to a new location. This move helps spread seeds – and therefore new plants – to new locations.

The animals that help pollinate flowers range from bees and insects to birds and bats. Let’s first look at bees and other insects.The most prevalent group of insects that pollinate flowers is bees. This relationship between bees and flowers is a form of symbiosis. Symbiosis means ‘living together’ and is a close, long-term interaction between two different species. Specifically, the relationship between bees and flowers illustrates mutualism, which is an association between two different species where both species benefit.

The bees benefit because they get nectar to use as food, and the flowers benefit because they are pollinated. Basically, it’s a win-win situation.Flowers that have evolved to attract bees and other insects, such as butterflies and moths, are often colored blue or yellow. While these may not be your favorite colors for flowers, because bees see colors differently, they are very distinctive and attractive.

Also, the flowers may have bold designs which also allow them to stand out and attract the insects.

Red flowers attract birds
Pollination by birds and insects

Other flowers have evolved to be pollinated by birds – especially hummingbirds and sunbirds. These relationships are also symbiotic because the flower gets pollinated and the bird gets food – both are good things. Because birds see differently than bees, flowers designed to attract birds are generally red in color.

These flowers need to provide much more nectar than flowers that attract insects. The red isn’t that appealing to insects as the blues and yellow are not appealing to birds. This ensures that birds don’t try to get a large amount of nectar from flowers that only produce a small amount of nectar intended for insects. This attraction to certain colors is also why many hummingbird feeders are bright red.

Lesson Summary

No matter how flowers are pollinated, the movement of pollen from the anther to the stigma is required for the flower to be fertilized. In order to move pollen from one plant to another for pollination, plants have developed several specific tools.

Flowers that use wind to move pollen live close together and generally don’t waste energy developing pretty flowers. However, flowers that are pollinated by animals have developed specific tools to attract pollinators. For example, flowers that are yellow or blue are intended to attract bees, while flowers that are red appeal to birds.

All of these tools help flowers to accomplish their goal of becoming fertilized so that new plants can be made.

Learning Outcomes

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define parts of a flower, pollination, and fertilization
  • Describe different methods of pollination
  • Explain why certain animals are drawn to certain flowers

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