Outdoor Encounters, June

By Nathan Bolls on June 14, 2019

These days a great fury is filling the air waves between plants and many of the animals of our world. Ease yourself across the prairie and within its tree- and shrub-filled gullies and patches. Stroll the woods; watch the trees, shrubs, and flowers around your home; or the plants in your gardens. Even with watching closely, you’ll sense very little of the fury, very few of the trillions of small, quiet acts of which I speak.

   Nevertheless, one of the most important events in all of Nature now is in full swing. I am referring to plant reproduction, in two parts. First is pollination, the transfer of “male” pollen grains to a functional spot on top of the “female” part of a flower, i.e., to where the pollen grain can begin to form a pollen tube through which it can travel downward to unite, secondly, in fertilization with an egg in the ovule at the base of each of the many flowers on each of the approximately 370,000 known species of flowering plants. Within this number are almost all of the “plants” we notice, and, certainly, the ones upon which we depend for sustenance as we know it.

   Space limitation keeps me from detailing the very complex processes of cell division that produces the “male” pollen grains and the fertile eggs. But union of egg and pollen grain stimulates the formation of a tiny embryo. Within the ovule, mostly from the ovule walls, various combinations of layers differentiate to form protective layers around both the embryo and the endosperm that also has developed as “embryo food.” The embryo, endosperm, and their protective layers form a seed. But the different combinations of layers, and how they may develop in a particular species, give us different reproductive products. Some we call seeds, some nuts, berries, melons, beans, or fruits.

   We notice flowers on roses, azaleas, blue flax, and irises; blossoms on magnolia and tulip trees, and on flowering dogwoods. We notice sunflowers, and perhaps such as prairie coneflowers, prairie primrose, and prairie purple mallow among the dozens of species of wildflowers that bloom across our Tallgrass. Ask Sue Hunt about these beautiful parts of Nature all around us. Gardeners see flowers on numerous plants, including potato, squash, morning glory, bindweed, and late-season broccoli.

   The flowers are there, but have you ever noticed them on cottonwood, ash, locust, oak, or elm trees? How about on any of the 40-plus species of grasses found across our tallgrass prairie? Our lawn grasses rarely are given a chance to mature to the flowering stage! How about on the yew plants around your house; the red cedars that are threatening to take over the Tallgrass; or the white and ponderosa pines and the blue spruce trees we set out for decoration?

   The motive force that puts a pollen grain in the appropriate spot on the female part of a flower is quite variable. Most pollinations are brought about by wind or insects, but for many species of flowers, we know that water, birds, bats, other mammals, and gravity may act as the force behind pollen distribution. But what we think of as typical is so. In the USA alone, 3,000 bee species, 750 butterfly species, and 1,000s of species of wasps, flies, and beetles pollinate approximately 75 percent of our flowering plants. A Silent Fury!