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It is national pollinator week, and the University of Illinois is celebrating with some fantastic events this weekend! To get in the spirit, let’s talk about pollination.
Pollination is how plants reproduce, and since many delicious plant-derived foods result from fertilized ovaries, this is important to us as well. That yellow pollen that makes you sneeze and covers your car (or bike, or walking shoes) in the spring and summer is equivalent to millions of sperm cells, looking for female plant parts. More ancient plants, such as mosses and ferns, still have flagella on their spores, which is why they have to live in moist areas: Their “sperm” still needs to swim. But not higher plants! Pollen represents an evolutionary innovation that allows plants to thrive on land and spread their genes far and wide.
However, plants are not mobile. They can’t saunter off to meet another plant and hook up at a plant party. So they rely on other methods to spread pollen to female flowers or cones. Many species use the wind to spread their pollen, but you can imagine it might be more beneficial to have some insurance that your pollen will reach another plant of your species, especially if you are spread widely throughout an environment.
Here is where wonderful pollinators come in! We are all used to the familiar examples of bees, butterflies, and birds (think hummingbirds) as examples of pollinators. But were you aware of other pollinators such as…