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Do Plants Have Sex?

By Paul James

Yes, plants have sex. Sort of, anyway. We refer to it as pollination, the goal of which is reproduction. It’s a process that’s more than just fascinating. It’s also essential to the survival of not just humanity, but all life forms. So yeah, it’s that important. And here — greatly simplified — is how it works.

Among flowering plants, the male part of the flower is known as the stamen, which produces pollen. The female part, called the pistil, is crowned by the stigma. Pollination takes place when the pollen is transferred from the stamen to the stigma. And the product of that union is a seed (sometimes one, sometimes thousands), which with any luck will germinate to produce more plants as well as most of the fruits and vegetables we eat.

The vast majority of flowering plants rely on pollinators to get the job done — bees, butterflies and moths, hummingbirds, even wasps, flies, beetles, and bats. These pollinators have no idea how vital a role they play. They’re just looking for food in the form of sticky pollen or sweet nectar. And while feeding, they rub up against the stamens and get pollen all over themselves. When they move to another flower on the same plant or a different plant of the same species the pollen comes in contact with that flower’s stigma. The grains of pollen then travel down the pistil to the ovule. And bingo — pollination is complete!

Some flowering plants don’t actually need pollinators to produce seed. Instead, they rely on wind for pollination. They include grasses such corn, rice, and wheat, as well as oak and hickory trees. Conifers also rely on wind for pollination. And some plants — ferns, for instance — reproduce asexually (that is, without sex). Sad, but true.

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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6 responses to “Do Plants Have Sex?”

  1. Judith Deem says:

    Do you have shrimp plants or shrimp tree this year?

  2. Christi Bingham says:

    I really never knew these facts of life. Thanks, Paul!

  3. Greg Rosta says:

    Hi Paul, I never thought of flies as pollinators, that is interesting! I guess it makes sense…but doesn’t make me dislike them any less! I have a couple of questions unrelated to the birds and the bees. How far from my vegetable garden would you recommend the compost pile be, and how much sun does it really need?

    • Paul James says:

      I have one compost pile in my veggie garden and another just a few feet away. The more sun the merrier, as heat helps drive the decomposition process. And yeah, I’m not too keen on flies either.