Tag Archives: pollination

Bearded Iris: ‘Spartan’

26 May

In Greek mythology, Iris was the goddess of the rainbow; the flower’s name pays homage to the many colors of irises that exist. In the language of flowers, an iris is viewed as the bearer of good tidings–a reflection of the goddess Iris’ other role as messenger to the gods. I was swayed to include irises in the garden solely because of their beautiful display–but if they also bring good luck, even better.

This year, I added a maroon-colored bearded Iris: ‘Spartan.’ Its name is a nod to ancient Greek history, though their enemies would probably not have equated Spartan warriors with good tidings. I at least hope the name means the three plants I now have in my garden will be hardy.

They are the first bearded irises I have had the pleasure to observe at close range, and though they are now at the end of their brief blooming season, I kept an eager eye on them from the moment they were first in bud:

Bud and emerging bloom.

Three upward-facing petals (standards); three downward-facing petals (falls), with the beards resting atop the falls.

Close-up of a beard, which helps to guides pollinators (bees) into the flower. With the standard removed and this section of the plant opened up a bit (right), it is easier to see how the beard–and the color pattern–point the way to the nectar at the inner base of the flower. The stamen (male reproductive organ) with its pollen-covered anther is visible at the back, just in front of another petal-like structure that is called the style arm. The style arm is a highly modified pistil (female reproductive organ). Normally it’s a tight squeeze for a bee to get to the nectar; as it heads downward, it will brush up against the anther and get dusted with pollen. When the bee visits another iris, the pollen on its back rubs off and attaches to the sticky stigmatic lip (the arched line toward the top of the style arm, below the upper crest), allowing pollination to begin.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring

3 May

When I think of Spring, I think of flowers and new life.  This Tulipa “Ballerina” is one the the earliest and cheeriest flowers in my garden, and a look inside the tulip reveals some essentials about plant reproduction.

This close-up focuses on the three-lobed stigma (the top-most section of the tulip’s female reproductive parts, known collectively as the pistil), which catches pollen via its sticky and fuzzy surface. The pollen then travels down the tube-like style to the ovary where  fertilization takes place (if the pollen came from a tulip plant), ultimately leading to the production of seeds. The six pollen-covered anthers (the top-most parts of the male reproductive organs, known collectively as the stamens) are blurred in the background; the stamens emanate from the base of the pistil.

Tulips are considered “perfect” flowers because they contain both male and female reproductive organs. They can self pollinate, but can also cross pollinate in the wild with the help of bees and other pollinators. Alas, most commercial tulips, including this one, are sterile hybrids. But the good thing is that tulips also reproduce via their bulbs, which allows gardeners to enjoy them anew each spring.

A Master Pollinator in Action

4 Sep

The phrase “busy as a bee” came about for a reason. Bees never seem to stop. And we are all better off because of their tireless search for nectar, which makes them prime pollinators. This weekend, I watched one bee as it attempted to get into each flower on our two, tall Rose of Sharon plants. That’s a lot of flowers to visit. But according to my trusty Botany for Gardeners, a bee’s habit of flying back and forth between flowers of the same species is what leads to successful pollination. That, and a few incentives. First, there’s the nectar, usually found at the base of a flower — meaning the bee has to brush past the flower’s reproductive organs to reach the jackpot. Then, to make it easier for the bee (or any other pollinator) to get to the nectar, many flowers have nectar guides–markings that say “this way to the good stuff.” Those guides can be stripes, patterns, dots, or heightened color, etc.

In the photos below, a bee is lured inside a Rose of Sharon flower by the darker red stripes on each petal and the darker red inner circle that forms when all the petals come together at the base of the flower. The bee is already carrying pollen from the other Rose of Sharon flowers it has visited. It then burrows down to the base of the flower to reach the nectar — and in the process drops off some of the pollen it is carrying and picks up a bit more. Then, it heads up and out — off to pollinate the next flower.

Zucchini Flowers, Leaves, and Bees

3 Jul

Yes, it’s that time of year, a time when you realize you planted way too much zucchini. I have only one zucchini plant in the garden (not having much space for vegetables to begin with) — yet I find myself asking, how can one plant produce that much? And it’s barely gotten started.

Luckily, I love zucchini and am already thinking about what to do with my harvest. However, this post is not about cooking. It is about the plant itself, from flower to leaf. If you grow zucchini, you probably quite enjoy seeing the zucchini flowers/blossoms/blooms. I usually look at them and imagine them stuffed with a nice cheese, dipped in a light batter, and gently fried….heavenly! Some say the male flowers (which grow at the end of long stems, unlike female flowers, which grow at the end of the emerging zucchini) are the best for eating; I’ll happily sample either one. The flowers can also be eaten raw, sliced into salads or other dishes.

But I digress. My intention was to write about the plant–as a plant, not as a source of food. A couple of days ago, I was checking the status of the zucchini and was startled to see a fully open flower. I almost never see an open flower, which makes sense since they are only open for one day and usually from morning to early afternoon (when I am at work, or not paying sufficient attention). In order for any zucchini to be produced, bees must take advantage of this small window of opportunity and do their part by carrying pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. [Ok, I have to digress again to show a completely unrelated photo of a friend’s beehive since I don’t have a photo of a bee on my zucchini flowers–and yes, honey bees are excellent pollinators of zucchini and many other fruits and vegetables. Go bees!]

Some of my baby zucchini seemed to wither on the stems and drop off before they even got going. I wondered if this was due to all the rain we’ve been having (or even worse, if it could possibly be the fault of our male dog–despite the barricades I erected). Luckily, I discovered it’s because the female flower didn’t get quite enough pollen from the male. Gardeners wishing to help the process along can try to hand pollinate by carefully removing the anther from the male flower and dabbing it onto the stigma of the open female flower (or by using cotton swabs to transfer the pollen). In my case, with plenty of zucchini already harvested and more to come, I may need to start tying all those flowers closed!

Here is a photo of a lovely, open zucchini flower (looks male)…

… and of another part of the plant that rarely gets mentioned: the leaf. I really like the way the leaves look, and I particularly like the downward angle in this photo. But zucchini leaves are a force of nature. They are so big and so prolific that they keep taking over the small space I allocated to the zucchini plant, and I have had to prune them several times. I felt guilty cutting them off at first, but then I learned that judicious pruning lets more light in and can help increase zucchini production. Wait–is that a plus?