Pollen is a very important powdery substance created by most plants. Pollination is when pollen gets spread around. In fact, without pollen spreading from flower to flower many plants wouldn’t be able to reproduce. Some plants spread their pollen through the wind, but more plants require pollinators, animals that land on plants to feed on nectar. While they’re feeding, the powdery pollen rubs off and sticks to them, and when they move to another plant, some of it falls off to pollinate the new plant.
In this Real Science activity, you’ll get to be a pollinator, just like the most famous pollinator of all: the noble bee! You won’t be using flowers, though.
To the lab!
- Paper towels
- A big bowl
- Cheese curls (the cheesier, the better)
- A candy that’s wrapped in individual pieces, like Starburst or fun-size candy bars
- Cut a few flower shapes out of your paper towels. Lay a piece of candy (still wrapped) in the center of each of them.
- Put a few more wrapped candies in the bottom of your big bowl and then fill it the rest of the way up with cheese curls. This will be your first flower.
- Time to be a bee! Dig your hand through the cheese curls and feel around until you find one of the candies. Grab it and pull it out.
- A bee’s job is never done! Time to move onto other flowers. Using the same hand, pick up a piece of candy from your paper towel flowers. What happens when you do?
What's going on?
In this activity, the candy represents nectar, which is full of sugar and delicious for many animals like insects and hummingbirds. The cheese curls were a part of the plant called the stamen, the part of the plant that produces pollen. Part of a stamen is usually covered in the pollen powder, just like a cheese curl, and when a pollinator lands on the flower and moves around, drinking nectar, some of that pollen gets stuck to them, just like the cheese powder did on your hands.
Later, the pollinator moves to another flower to get another drink of nectar. When it lands, some of the pollen already stuck to it rubs off on the new flower, just like the cheese powder did on the paper towel flowers. This pollen makes it way down into another part of the plant called the pistil, where it combines with a part called the ovule and together they develop into a seed.
Bees are probably the most famous pollinators, but they’re not the only ones. Thousands of insects spread pollen from plant to plant, as do many different kinds of birds and even nectar-eating bats and certain monkeys! Humans can even be pollinators if they want lots of seeds or fruits from their plants. They can use small paintbrushes to move pollen from stamens to pistils.
Don't forget to share your Real Science experiments with us by using the hashtag #TCMatHome on social media!