P.S. I love Yew – How Plants Reproduce

This Valentine’s Day, we dig into sweet, sweet lurve…between our green pals

They say Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but I’m not so sure. A day where some cutie gives you two types of Roses (red & chocolate) and whips up a candlelit dinner…erm, I think that gets my vote! Whether or not you’re lucky enough to have a budding romance or even a fully-grown one, take your mind off real love for a while and instead think about affairs of the botanical kind.

So, how do plants get it on? I’ll tell you but be warned…things are about to get a little raunchy up in here. You see, just like humans, plants can be sexual. They can also be asexual. And these are the two methods by which different species reproduce.

Sexual reproduction

The sexual method isn’t totally unlike the way people procreate. When the male and female reproductive cells (the pollen and the ovule) combine, the genes from both work together to create new life.

This mixture of genes gives plants a couple of advantages over their asexually-reproduced counterparts. First, they’re more adaptable to varying environmental conditions. Second, they’re better at staying nice and healthy.

Sexual reproduction happens inside the flower, which perhaps you’ll now understand is why some adults teach kids to call the vagina a flower. After all, the vagina is where sperm and eggs – like pollen and ovule – come together. Am I making you blush yet? Sorry!

Inside the flower, you’ll find both the male and female reproductive parts (the androecium and the gynoecium). The androecium is what contains the pollen, which eventually matures and bursts out to get to the stigma in the gynoecium. This is known as pollination, which I’ll assume you’ve heard of before today.

And there are two types. One is self-pollination, where the pollen lands on the stigma of the same flower or another flower on the same plant. The other is cross-pollination, where the pollen lands on the stigma of a flower on another plant belonging to the same species. Have I lost you?

As you likely know, flowers are bright and colourful things, and they often smell like poetry. There’s a reason for that, and it’s so they can attract “the birds and the bees.” Along with wind, water, and other insects, birds and bees carry pollen from plant to plant. Once these agents of pollination have done their blooming important job (save the bees!), we eventually get seeds that germinate into plants – plants that you might end up buying from our online store. Yay!

Unisexual & bisexual flowers

As with us humans, some flowers have an “it’s complicated” status on Facebook. Ok, fine…flowers don’t have social media profiles – at least, not ones they set up themselves (even if scientists did just teach spinach to send emails). But it is true their sexuality isn’t always as straightforward as we might imagine.

Some flowers – such as the cucumber – are unisexual. These contain EITHER the male or female reproductive parts, and it’s possible for a single plant to feature a mixture of both male and female unisexual flowers. I told you it can get complicated, and there’s more too.

Other flowers – including roses (how apt for this Valentine’s Day blog) – are bisexual. Like worms, these contain BOTH the male and female reproductive parts.

Asexual reproduction

It might please you to hear that the asexual method is a little less fruity. Actually, there are really two asexual methods.

Involving no flowers, the first is where plants go through what we call vegetative propagation, a process quicker than sexual reproduction and involving regeneration in various different ways – through leaves, stems, or roots.

The resulting plants – strawberry plants and ivy, to give but a couple of examples – are usually very sturdy. They’re also genetically identical to the parent plant because no mixing of reproductive cells occurs as it does in sexual reproduction.

The second asexual method is known as apomixis, which is where plants produce seeds without fertilization.

See, I wasn’t joking when I said the whole asexual thing was less fruity. On one hand, you could argue that removing sex from the equation dulls the process. On the other, can all the plants spraying their pollen at each other willy-nilly claim the gift of cloning? They certainly cannot, so I’ll let you decide which is the coolest method.

Well, there we have it. Your handy guide to plant fornication, courtesy of Seb’s Urban Jungle. If that puts you off your Valentine’s Netflix & Chill, my apologies. If it puts you in the mood, it’s a therapist you need, not our blog. Happy Valentine’s Day my green-fingered friends. Mwah!

Words by Steven Allison