“So this plant here is called ‘Buck Bean.'”
Ken Marr, The Royal BC Museum’s Curator of Botany, loves to share his passion for plants.
“And it has two different flower types occurring on different plants.
“One flower type has a long stalk on the female part, and a short stalk on the male part.”
Today’s subject? Can flowers choose their mates?
“Most people, when they think of a typical flower, think of a flower that has both male and female parts in it…
“And in fact that’s probably the most common situation, but some species have evolved mechanisms by which the male flowers and the female flowers are on different plants.”
That includes species such as the tiny Alpine Willow, which has small clusters of male and female flowers on separate plants.
Another plant with the same situation is the Single Spike Sedge.
In fact, Marr admits, “when I first collected [the Single Spike Sedge specimen], I thought I collected two different species!”
Marr also explains How Fireweed reproduces.
“All of the flowers have both male and female parts, but they mature at different times.
“So the insect will come from another plant, it’s got pollen on it, and it will brush against the female parts of the flower, and deposit the pollen.”
Then as the insect travels up the plant it reaches the male parts, and picks up more pollen.
“This is a way that plants are forced to get pollination, get genetic material, from a different plant, which then increases the genetic diversity of the offspring.
“And the advantage for that is that if the climate changes, if conditions change, the population is buffered because there’s some individuals that are adapted, genetically adapted, for that change, and others might not be.”
And if you’ve ever planted squash and wondered why only some flowers result in fruit, Marr explains why, using a specimen of BC’s only squash relative to illustrates why this is so.
“This is the female flower here, you can see the big swelling underneath, that’s the ovary, which will develop into the fruit.
“Here’s a long cluster of male flowers, and you can see none of them have that swelling beneath them. They will contribute pollen.”
Mother Nature, doing everything she can to ensure each species survives, any way it can.