Spring is in the air

Spring is in the air and soon there will be rampant pollination happening in every flower. Or, at least that's the gardener's dream. My friend Cathy wanted me to talk about plant reproduction and pollination. What a perfect topic for this time of year.

Flowering plants, known as angiosperms, are the largest major group of plants. Almost all plants consumed as food by man and domestic animals are angiosperms, including grasses, fruits, nut trees and vegetables. The basic type of reproduction in these plants is sexual, carried on by special reproductive organs.

Petals are the jewelry worn by the plant to attract suitors. They attract specific pollinators, depending on their color, shape, texture, and other characteristics. The fragrance is the perfume. Some flowers smell like rotting meat to attract the flies determined by evolution to be their perfect pollinators. Thank goodness, others smell delightful.

The male reproductive organs are the stamens, thin stalks topped by pollen-producing anthers. The female reproductive parts are the pistil, with its ovary in which the seeds develop; the stalk-like style; and the stigma, the entry port for the pollen. The shape of the stigma also influences which kind of pollinator it attracts. As bees, flies, other insects, hummingbirds and even bats enter the flower to get at the pollen or nectar, they transfer pollen from the male to the female parts, either within the same flower or from flower to flower, and plant to plant.

Some flowers only have male (staminate) or female (pistillate) parts, rather than both. These are called imperfect flowers. Some plants have both staminate and pistillate flowers on the same plant, such as corn. Other plants have these located on separate plants, such as hollies. Think about the tassels on corn. These are the male portions of the corn flower. Each string of the tassel connects to one of the kernels, the female portions. The kernel only gets fat if it's successfully pollinated. On zucchini and other squash plants, there are male flowers, female flowers, and flowers with both parts all on one plant!

Whatever the flower structure, the sperm from the pollen fertilizes the egg in the ovary. Self-pollination occurs when pollen is transferred within flowers on the same plant. Cross-pollination occurs when pollen is moved to another plant. Many apples, for example, must be cross-pollinated. When purchasing fruit trees, make sure to find out about their pollination requirements.

Join Wendy Hanson, 6-7:30 p.m., April 11, for a free workshop on "Growing Roses" at the Carson City office of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, 2621 Northgate, Suite 12. She will talk about pruning, fertilizing, selecting, and planting roses. Call 887-2252 if you would like to attend.

For information on pollination, roses or gardening, contact me, 887-2252 or skellyj@unce.unr.edu, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at www.unce.unr.edu. "Ask a Master Gardener" by e-mailing mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu.

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City / Storey County Extension Educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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