You might already know that pollination is the transfer of pollen from the stamen (male flower part) to the carpel (female flower part) of a flowering plant. Once pollinated (via any of the pollination methods), the plant forms a fruit. Fruits contain seeds, which will grow into the next generation of plants. Read more about flower anatomy and download a free flower anatomy diagram here.
Different plants are pollinated in different ways. Some plants self-pollinate, meaning a flower is pollenated with pollen from the same plant or even the same flower. Alternatively, many plants cross-pollinate, meaning they receive pollen from a different plant of the same species. Since plants cannot move, they usually need some help to transfer their pollen to other flowers or plants. For instance, many plants need the help of animals called pollinators. However, some plants are pollinated by the wind carrying their pollen to other flowers. Additionally, some aquatic (water-living) species of plants rely on water for pollination: they release pollen into the water so it can float to other plants. Below, I will explain more about each of the three different pollination methods: animal pollinators, wind, and water.
Pollination Method 1: Animals
Animal pollination is when a plant relies on an animal pollinator to carry its pollen between flowers. Examples of animal pollinators include bees, butterflies, and beetles. However, many other types of insects and animals can be pollinators in some cases including mammals, reptiles, and birds!
Flowers pollenated by animals have an incredibly wide variety of colors, shapes, scents, and sizes depending on the pollinator that they need to attract. Animal pollination is the most common pollination method. It is estimated that around 80% of plants are pollinated by animal pollinators, rather than by abiotic forces like wind and water.
Pollination Method 2: Wind
Wind pollination is when a plant creates large amounts of light-weight pollen which is carried between flowers by the wind. You have probably seen wind-borne pollen – perhaps in spring or summer you have gone outside to find the surfaces of patio furniture and cars covered in a fine yellow powder. Maybe you have even started sneezing or itching your eyes because your body reacts to the pollen in the air. Scientists estimate that somewhat less than 20% of plants are pollinated by the wind. For example, some trees, grasses, and corn use the wind pollination method.
Pollination Method 3: Water
Water pollination occurs when plant releases its pollen into water or onto the surface of water. Pollen floats or flows through or across the water between flowers. Some aquatic plants use this pollination method, but overall, very few plants are pollinated via water. Scientists estimate that less than 1% of all plants are pollinated via water.
Teach Pollination in Your Classroom:
1. Explore pollination & plants with Wild Earth Lab!
2. Further Reading:
3. Free Pollination Learning Resources:
Unusual pollinators game – directions and cards. Students ask yes/no questions to identify the pollinators taped to their backs.
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References and Further Reading
- Houston Zoo (2018). Unusual Pollinators and the Plants They Love. Available: https://www.houstonzoo.org/blog/unusual-pollinators-plants-love/
- Maryland Grows (2020). Gone with the wind: a look at wind pollination. University of Maryland Extension. Available: https://marylandgrows.umd.edu/2020/04/13/gone-with-the-wind-a-look-at-wind-pollination/
- Mize, A. (2018). Lizards, mice, bats, and other vertebrates are important pollinators too. The Ecological Society of America. Available: https://www.esa.org/blog/2018/04/04/vertebrate-polinator-metaanalysis/
- USDA Forest Service (n.d.). Pollination Strategies. Available: https://www.fs.usda.gov/wildflowers/pollinators/Plant_Strategies/index.shtml
- USDA Forest Service (n.d.). Wind and Water Pollination. Available: https://www.fs.usda.gov/wildflowers/pollinators/wind.shtml