Nature's Lessons: What Flowers Tell Us About Pollinators

Have you ever stopped to wonder why some flowers face up, some face down, and some stick out sideways? There are many lessons nature will teach us if we'll just stop to ask, "Why?"

Serrano Pepper photo by Brittney Voelker

Most people assume that all flowers require pollination in order to produce seeds, fruits, or vegetables. Not true! While pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and flies, are necessary for food production, not every plant requires a helpful pollinator. 

Flowers that face down, such as tomato flowers and pepper flowers, do not require pollinators. These flowering plants evolved to require agitation provided by wind or animals brushing past. The agitation shakes the anther which releases the pollen. The pollen then sticks to the stigma and through further agitation works its way up inside the stigma to fertilize the waiting ovules which then turn into seeds. 

Graphic by Univ. of Queensland, Australia

Many indoor gardeners have a hard time hand pollinating their tomato plants because they only shake them side to side. For the best results, the plants also need to be tossed up and down gently to simulate how the wind tosses the plant about. A combination of a fan and gently shaking the plants a few times a day will provide enough agitation for successful hand pollination. 

Photo by Brittney Voelker - that's me!
Flowers that face up, such as squash flowers and pumpkin flowers, require pollinators. These flowering plants are usually brightly colored and are like bright signs directing pollinators in to their nectar. The pollinators lands on the flower, and while drinking the nectar knocks the pollen from the stamen into the stigma thus pollinating the plant. Under ultra violet light the flowers actually show to have stripes that direct pollinators inward like runway landing lights.

Flowers that face sideways and are shaped like trumpets, such as the trumpet vine and scarlet creeper, require pollinators that have a long proboscis, such as a butterfly, or very narrow beak, like a hummingbird's. Nectar is able to pool in the base of these long, skinny flowers without leaking out or drying out as quickly as it would if the flower hung straight down or faced straight up. 

Photo by Hank Davis

Did you know? Hummingbird's drink nectar by flicking their forked tongue in and out as rapidly as 15 times a second? Amazing!



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