Imagine being stuck in the ground, with no ability to move your body. That is essentially the life that plants live. So, how do plants manage to reproduce?
Plants have developed many different ways to reproduce. They use seeds, roots, spores, cuttings, and clones to create new plants. Some plants reproduce on their own and others need help from pollinators like bees and birds.
There are two types of reproduction in plants: sexual and asexual. Sexual reproduction requires male genetic material and female genetic material to create a new plant. Asexual reproduction does not.
Let’s take a look at both strategies.
Imagine being able to sprout a clone of yourself. You cut off a finger, and stick it into the ground. A few days later, the finger grows into an entirely new person!
That is essentially asexual reproduction and many plants have this amazing superpower!
In asexual reproduction, a plant makes a clone – an exact copy of itself. Some plants do this by sending out roots that grow up into new plants. In another process a piece of a plant might break off and grow into a new plant.
Because plants can’t move around as animals do, new plants tend to grow near the original one. This is particularly true for plants that reproduce asexually.
Flowers are designed for one purpose: to help the plant reproduce. If you look at the center of a flower, you will probably see several thin tubes with dusty yellow heads on top. These are called stamens. The stamens produce grains of pollen.
In the very center, you may see a single, thicker tube. This is called the pistil. The top of the pistil catches pollen and transports it down the tube to the plant’s ovary in the heart of the flower. There, a grain of pollen releases sperm, which fertilizes an egg. This egg grows into a seed.
In sexual reproduction, genetic material from two sources is mixed together. Pollen from the male part of a plant carries sperm to the eggs found in the female parts.
When these parts come together a seed is formed. Plants with both male and female flower parts may pollinate themselves or they may get pollen from a different plant of the same species.
Pollinators Help Plants Reproduce
The wind can blow pollen from one flower to another, but flowers aren’t taking any chances. They use color, smell, and nectar to attract pollinators like bees to distribute their pollen.
When a bee lands on a flower, it collects a sugar substance called “nectar” found in some flowers. It uses this nectar to make honey. However, while it collects the nectar, the bee also gets completely covered in pollen. The bee may fly to another flower and some of the pollen can fall off.
Bees and other pollinating insects and birds help plants exchange genetic material. In turn, this creates more genetic diversity and helps plants adapt to a changing world.
Plants have evolved many strategies to have their seeds distributed. For instance, if you’ve ever blown the seeds off of a dandelion, you can see how well these seeds are carried by the wind. Some seeds contain little barbs that attach to animals, who can carry the seeds for miles before pulling them out of their fur. Plants also grow fruits to spread their seeds. In some cases, animals may eat fruit and poop the seed out far from the parent plant.
Written by Laura McCamy