Plants are living organisms. That means they need to reproduce in order to pass on their genes to future generations. Plants can create offspring through either sexual or asexual reproduction.
Sexual reproduction requires genetic material (DNA) from two parents. The parent plants have male and female sex cells, called gametes. The genetic material from the male and female gametes combines to produce offspring. This process is called fertilization.
Seeds produced through fertilization contain genetic material from both parents. As a result, the offspring are not genetically identical to either of the parent plants. This genetic diversity can help them survive if the environment changes.
Flowering plants reproduce sexually through a process called pollination. The flowers contain male sex organs called stamens and female sex organs called pistils. The anther is the part of the stamen that contains pollen. This pollen needs to be moved to a part of the pistil called the stigma.
Plants can either self-pollinate or cross-pollinate. Self-pollination happens when a plant’s own pollen fertilizes its own ovules. Cross-pollination happens when the wind or animals move pollen from one plant to fertilize the ovules on a different plant. The advantage of cross-pollination is that it promotes genetic diversity. Some plants have features that prevent self-pollination, such as pollen and ovules that develop at different times.
Pollinators are animals that carry pollen between plants. Many pollinators are insects, like bees, butterflies, moths and beetles. Some birds, including hummingbirds, also play a part. Likewise, certain mammals, like bats and rodents, move pollen between plants. The colours and smells of flowers often attract pollinators. Pollen will stick to a pollinator’s body as it feeds on the flower’s nectar.
Fertilization is the next step after pollination. Once it reaches the pistil, the pollen needs to fertilize an egg inside the stigma. This egg is called an ovule.
Fertilization creates fruits that contain seeds. Some fruits are fleshy, like oranges and watermelons. Others are dry, like acorns or walnuts. These fruits are an attractive food for various animals. After digesting fruit, animals expel waste that contains seeds. This way, seeds can take root and grow in places far from the plants that produced them!