Plant World

Plant Structure and Function

What are effective types of pollination?

Effective pollination occurs when viable pollen is transferred to a plant’s stigmas, ovule-bearing organs, or ovules (seed precursors). Without pollination, there would be no fertilization. Since plants are immobile organisms, they usually need external agents to transport their pollen from where it is produced in the plant to where fertilization can occur. This situation produces cross-pollination, wherein one plant’s pollen is moved by an agent to another plant’s stigma. Some plants are able to self-pollinate—transfer their own pollen to their own stigmas. But of the two methods, cross-pollination seems more advantageous, for it allows new genetic material to be introduced.

Cross-pollination agents include insects, wind, birds, mammals, and water. Many times flowers offer one or more “rewards” to attract these agents—sugary nectar, oil, solid food bodies, perfume, a place to sleep, or sometimes the pollen itself. Other times the plant can “trap” the agent into transporting the pollen. Generally, plants use color and fragrances as attractants to lure these agents. For example, a few orchids use a combination of smell and color to mimic the female of certain species of bees and wasps so successfully that the corresponding males will attempt to mate with them. Through this process (pseudocopulation) the orchids achieve pollination. While some plants cater to a variety of agents, other plants are very selective and are pollinated by a single species of insect only. This extreme pollinator specificity tends to maintain the purity of a plant species.

Plant structure can accommodate the type of agent used. For example, plants such as grasses and conifers, whose pollen is carried by the wind, tend to have a simple structure lacking petals, with freely exposed and branched stigmas to catch airborne pollen and dangling anthers (pollen-producing parts) on long filaments. This type of anther allows the light round pollen to be easily caught by the wind. These plants are found in areas such as prairies and mountains, where insect agents are rare. In contrast, semi-enclosed, nonsymmetrical, long-lived flowers such as irises, roses, and snapdragons have a “landing platform” and nectar in the flower base to accommodate insect agents such as the bee. The sticky, abundant pollen can easily become attached to the insect to be borne away to another flower.


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