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The Role of Pollination

Flowers being pollinated by a bee.

Pollination is essential for reproduction in seed-bearing plants, and therefore, much of the foods and ecosystems we enjoy. 

Pollination is the physical transfer of pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma. A pollinator is an animal that moves pollen from flower to flower.  

Flowers are essential to the pollination process of most seed-producing plants. Bright, colorful, fragrant flowers serve as the billboards of the plant world, enticing pollinators to visit and spread pollen.  

Wind, insects, birds and even humans can pollinate plants. Wheat, corn, barley and oats all have tiny flowers without showy floral structures. These flowers are adapted to wind pollination as pollen is easily blown from flower to flower.  

Insect-pollinated plants have large, colorful flowers that smell good to entice insects to visit. Pollen grains stick to the insects as they indulge in the nectar provided by these flowers. As insects move from flower to flower, pollen grains are deposited on the female stigma as the insect brushes past.  

Birds also can play the role of pollinator. Often, bird-pollinated flowers are orange, yellow or red and have fused petals forming a central tube that serves as a nectar cup. Like insect pollination, when a bird brushes against the pollen on the flower’s anthers, it attaches to the bird and moves to the next flower.  

Humans can serve as pollinators, too! With a cotton swab, you can transfer pollen from one flower to another in the garden. Many garden plants, like summer squash, melons and winter squash, have large flowers that can be easily pollinated by hand. You can greatly improve the fruit set in your garden by learning the flower parts and playing the role of pollinator.

By Candace DeLong, WVU Extension Service Agent – Hampshire County