ardening is an awful lot of fun! Especially when you realize there is a lot more going on in your garden than you might be aware of, or are willing to acknowledge. While you are so busy tidying up in your garden and keeping things looking just right, helping those flowers to look their best, sex is in the air!….
Let’s face it, flowers are the reproductive organs of plants and all plants are concerned about is reproducing. No matter how, they want to create seeds. They can’t just walk to their sexual partners so they need help from the wind and insects to succeed. Why do you think flowers look so pretty? They sure aren’t doing it for our gratification. It’s a matter of looking attractive to the right insect that will carry their pollen for them to the right partner, another flower.
Let’s have a quick look at the sexual organs of flowers, which truly, aren’t all that different from the human parts. A flower consists of the female parts, the pistil, the ovules and the nectary. The male parts are the stamens and the pollen. And what it is all about, is getting that pollen to penetrate the stigma (the receiving part of the pistil). The pollen sends tubes down the style (which is sort of like a tunnel) to the eggs in the ovaries, where the seeds are created. They are well protected from the outside world in there, just like human babies.
Pollen looks to us like a yellow-orange dust, and plants produce tons of it! It is more complex and tougher than we might realize. It can travel for many miles and stay alive for many years. It has a certain shape that will allow it to enter only the stigma of its own kind. Therefore, different flowers growing beside each other, won’t pollinate each other.
Different flowers use different strategies to obtain their goal- pollination! Some have male and female organs together in one flower (e.g. Fuchsia, Hibiscus, Daylilies) while others have separate male and female flowers on one plant (e.g. Begonias). Still others have male flowers on one plant and female flowers on another plant (e.g. Primroses, Hollies). The most common occurrence is male and female parts in one flower, although quite often in this arrangement, the male and female parts are sexually active at different times, to prevent self-fertilization.
What is important to a flower is attracting the right pollinator. They do this by displaying attractive colours. For example, bees are attracted to yellow, purple, blue and violet; butterflies mainly like orange, red, yellow and pink, whereas hummingbirds prefer red, orange and purple. You may want to consider this when selecting plants for your garden.
Some flowers have their sexual parts hanging out for everyone to see (e.g. Fuchsias), others are more discreet (e.g. Pansies). Snapdragons are masters of disguise and need to be opened up first before they can be pollinated. Bees learn to open them up with their weight and get to the nectar and pollen inside. Monkshood is another plant that can only be pollinated by smart bees.
Some flowers will change colour after sex, a signal to the pollinator that it’s all over.
Besides food, flowers also offer insects shelter from the weather and enemies. Quite often insects will find other partners spending the night as well. Flowers make a good spot for insects to lay their eggs. Some flowers produce oils that make insects more attractive to the opposite sex. Not surprising that insects and plants are so intimate!
Maybe you will look at your garden differently the next time you are out there!