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What is Pollination?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pollination is the process through which plants reproduce, by ensuring that male gametes are spread to female gametes, allowing the plant to produce seeds which will in turn develop into new plants. The process of pollination is important to people in a number of fields, including gardeners, farmers, and biologists, all of whom rely on pollination and the resulting fertilization. There are a number of different ways in which pollination can happen, and some plants have evolved very complex techniques for pollination.

The male part of the plant, known as the anther, produces pollen, a sticky material which contains genetic material. Pollination occurs when the pollen comes into contact with the ovule, the female part of the plant. In flowering plants, known as angiosperms, the pollen is transferred to the stigma, which transports the pollen to the ovule. In gymnosperms like conifers, the pollen is applied directly to the ovule.

Many plants are capable of self-pollinating, which involves spreading their own pollen onto their own ovules. However, cross-pollination is preferred, because it increases genetic diversity, making the plant species as a whole stronger and more likely to survive. Plants can accomplish cross-pollination by luring pollinators such as bees and insects onto their anthers, with the pollinators picking up the pollen and dropping it off on other plants. Cross-pollination can also happen when plants release their pollen into the air, relying on the wind to carry it to other plants. Humans are often familiar with this form of pollination, since ambient pollen in the air can trigger allergic reactions.

A variety of techniques can be used by plants to avoid self-pollination, such as features on the flower which prevent contact between the anther and the ovule or stigma. Plants are also capable of recognizing their own pollen, which allows them to trigger a chemical response which prevents fertilization if they become self-pollinated.

Once a plant is pollinated, the ovule becomes fertilized, and it can start to develop into a seed. Many seeds are covered in protective coatings so that they will not be damaged by animals or the elements, and some are encased in fruits which are meant to appeal to insects, birds, and other animals. When animals eat the fruit, they excrete the seeds later in a distant location, spreading the plant in the natural environment. Some plants are so specially developed that their seeds actually need to go through a digestive tract in order to germinate.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By sweetPeas — On Jun 24, 2011

I haven't seen many bees around the last few spring and summers. I know they are busy little pollinators. Do they have some favorite plants that they like to pollinate or are they just random? Does anyone know why the population of bees is going down? They used to be so plentiful.

Let's do what we can to bring back the bees!

By B707 — On Jun 22, 2011

The plant kingdom is really an amazing system. Just think about the ways a plant avoids self pollination so the species will become stronger genetically by cross pollination.

How about the plants that don't produce an attractive flower. How do they attract bees and other insects to facilitate pollination? I guess they rely on the wind to carry the pollen to another plant.

A very interesting point talked about in the article was the way the seeds from fruits is eaten, digested and excreted by an animal somewhere far away to start a new plant.

By andee — On Jun 22, 2011

Growing up in a small town in the Midwest, one of the only ways to make money in the summer was to detassel corn. This is done manually to remove the tassels from the corn that has pollen producing flowers. You must go along the whole row and remove every tassel from every stalk of corn.

This process will cross-breed two types of corn.

They still have crews that go around and do this every summer, and I must say that you really earn your money when you do this job. This is one form of pollen control that is hard work, but still very crucial.

By honeybees — On Jun 22, 2011

Honeybees are amazing pollinators! I keep a couple of hives in my yard. I love extracting my own honey to have for myself and share with neighbors and friends, but they also do a great job at pollinating my garden.

I remember reading that the honey bees pollination is responsible for up to 70% of the food we eat. If we don't have these insects to pollinate our food, our food supply would be drastically reduced.

By bagley79 — On Jun 22, 2011

My husband and I raise honeybees, and they play a very important role in pollinating our garden and flowers. Because many beekeepers have struggled in the last few years from bee pollination numbers in many states have been down.

We send our bees to California during the winter months to pollinate almonds, blueberries and avocados. Sometimes they will also pollinate onions and oranges, but almonds and blueberries are the main crops.

If there aren't enough bees to effectively pollinate the crops, you will see this by the increase in price at the store when you go to purchase these items.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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