The Orgy in Your Backyard

Bumble Bee Gathering Pollen by Audrey from Central Pennsylvania, via Wikimedia Commons

A bumble bee gathers malva flower pollen. Photo by Audrey from Central Pennsylvania, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

“The flower is the poetry of reproduction. It is an example of the eternal seductiveness of life.”

–Jean Giraudoux

 

If you have a thriving garden, there’s an orgy in your backyard.

Flowers are the sex organs of most plants* and their perfume may be what first brings the revelers. Many flowers—from trees, shrubs, annuals (the plants that grow, flower, and die all in one year), perennials (plants that stick around for years), bulbs (like tulips), tubers (dahlias), rhizomes (irises)—beckon pollinators with their enticing scents. Then there’s the gorgeous hues, the attention grabbers that also say, “Come do me.” The pollinators, in a hungry, one might say even lusty, frame of mind buzz and flutter from plant to plant. They sip, and rub, and gather, and frolic around in the luxuriousness of the silken flowers, drinking the nectar, gathering pollen.

Pollen, by the way, is plant sperm.

The pollinators are drunk and happy sipping that plant-wine. The plant’s very excited because it’s getting, well, . . . laid.

The pollen moves from one flower to another as the bees and other pollinators, such as wasps, flies, butterflies, moths, ants, and sometimes even humans, move around participating in the orgy. The goal for the flower, who have put on this party, is for the pollen grains to attach to the lady part of the flower. The top of this part is called a stigma. The pollen travels down the tube and fertilizes the female “eggs” in the ovule (think womb). Of course there are many variations of sexual intercourse in the plant world, so this isn’t the only way it happens . . . but you get the idea.

If fertilization occurs, the seeds ripen in the ovary and eventually are borne onto the soil—again through many variations: there may be a spontaneous explosion of the seed case, or, in the case of dandelions, the wind might loosen and free them, or animals, birds, and insects may dine on the seeds and later deposit them. When seeds land on the sweet earth and the conditions are right they germinate, grow, reach maturity.

And the orgy invitations will go out again next season.

 

This tiny halictid bee is gathering lily pollen while a giant bumblebee gathers nectar. Photo by Pollinator, via Wikimedia Commons

This tiny halictid bee gathers lily pollen while a giant bumblebee plumbs the lily’s center for nectar. Photo by Pollinator, via Wikimedia Commons

 

*The exceptions are mosses, ferns, and conifers.

Photo By: Stephane Magnenat, via Wikimedia Commons