Diversity, it seems, really is everything. In this very interesting article from The Economist reporting on a study featuring the work of 50 researchers and published in Science, the researchers have found that if you want more flowers and fruit, you need to increase the diversity of your pollinator population. The researchers looked at a wide range of crops, 41 in total with a diversity of flower shapes and sizes. Those crops pollinated by managed hives of honeybees had smaller fruit and later fruit set, while those pollinated by a diversity of insects including bees, beetles, and butterflies got better yields, up to twice as much! The researchers think that the difference in shapes and sizes of the insects help spread the pollen more effectively and increase cross-pollination. Just another case of monocultures in agriculture being a not-so-good thing. Variety, it seems, is indeed the spice of life, even for plants. ~AR
That buzz you hear coming from spring’s first flowers? It may be caffeine-enhanced. And no, the bees aren’t standing in line to get their espresso fix. They’re getting it from the flowers! According to this article reporting on a new study published in Science by Geraldine Wright of Newcastle University and her colleagues, flowers are producing caffeine-powered nectar in order to change pollinator behavior. Why? Apparently the competition for pollinators amongst plants is so intense that some plants have settled on a game of one-upmanship by offering more and more desirable rewards to their insect compatriots, including buzzy, buzzy caffeine. The caffeinated pollen is found most commonly in coffee and citrus plants and seems to be similar in concentration to the same weak cuppa joe you can grab on many a New York City Street corner. Who knew? Bees, they’re just like us! ~AR
Oh plants, you are endlessly fascinating! So many of your gorgeous morphological features, seemingly designed for simple human enjoyment, are actually genius studies in pollination. Take cup- or funnel-shaped flowers. Pretty, yes, but each little flower is so much more! Called “splash-cup” plants, raindrops fall into these flowers and then, using the velocity of the splashes, strew their seeds far and near. But wait, there’s more! Not only is this science that is fun to watch, it’s also science that serves a purpose, including possibly harnessing rain’s kinetic energy as electricity, helping manufacturers make more efficient ink jet printers, and possibly even helping in the science of crime scene forensics. Yep, this proves it, plants, you’re the best! ~AR
This microscopic image of a pollinated Amarylis stigma is really fascinating. I mean, when you like closely at the stigmas (the tip of a pistil) of many flowers, they look a little textured, and this makes it obvious why; it’s kind of like Velcro to capture the pollen. Plus, I just had to reblog this, I mean I can’t let Matt have all the fun with the microphotography!
Amarylis stigma (pink) with pollen grains (yellow) adhering to sticky glands on its surface. Some pollen tubes (olive green) carrying genetic material can be seen on top of the stigma. Imaged in low vacuum without prior dehydration. Dynamic focus and long working distance used for depth of focus.
Courtesy of Paul Gunning