MORRISVILLE, N.Y. — Relationships can be a tricky thing. They often start with attraction, but they won’t last very long without good communication, cooperation, and passion. What if I told you that the plant world had this figured out a very long time ago?
Not all plants need pollinators, but many do. Pollinators can include bats, people and birds but especially insects of all kinds. For centuries, plants and their pollinators have worked in tandem to achieve separate but related goals. Both need to procreate to ensure the survival of their species, but they certainly don’t go about it the same way.
Insects need plants to supply nectar, pollen and sometimes, flower parts as food so they have the energy to procreate. Plants need insects to transport their pollen from one plant to the next for fertilization to occur. The amazing ways in which some plants manage to use the insects they rely on is well, amazing! Specialized flower parts, pheromones and pollinia (pollen packets) are just a few ways plants manage to take advantage of the mobility of insects to accomplish their goal of fertilization.
One fascinating example is the hammer orchid or Drakaea glyptodon which lures in a species of wasp. When the wasp latches on to the flower part to mate with it, the hammer portion of the flower proceeds to whack the wasp against the flower until the flower’s pollen sacks stick to it. The pollen will then be ‘delivered’ to the next hammer orchid that same wasp visits, initiating pollination and seed production for the orchid. I won’t mention how many times the same wasp falls for this trick. Watch for yourself at: https://youtu.be/6yLnKfhmUzg
We’ve all heard the pollinators are important, that they ensure that we have things like apples, cherries and chocolate. Chocolate? Yes. Chocolate. Cocoa, the beginnings of what we know and love as chocolate, comes from a tree grown in the tropics. Along the trunk of this tree are large, football-shaped pods with many tiny flowers that must be pollinated by a tiny insect called a midge. Thank goodness for midges!!
Hungry for more? February 13th from 6pm-8pm at CCE Madison; you can find out lots more about The Sex-Life of Plants; exploring botany and pollinator/plant relationships. $5.00 gets you in the door but bring your sweetheart to cozy up to for free! Valentines’ themed refreshments will be provided. Register here: https://reg.cce.cornell.edu/SexLifeofPlants_225
Patty Catalano is a Horticulturist and has been a lover of botany and all things plants for over twenty years. She owns a small fruit & vegetable farm in Chenango County with her husband. She has a bachelor’s degree in Public Horticulture from Purdue University. She is the Ag & Garden Educator for CCE Madison.
Cornell Cooperative Extension Madison County