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Treebeard's Stumper
4 April 2003

The Birds and the Bees

To paraphrase Cole Porter, "Birds do it, bees do it, even mushrooms and trees do it..." Of course what they all do is exchange genetic material to produce unique offspring that are not identical with either parent. They're doing it right now, and I have some hay fever from all the pollen in this spring air. There are several alternatives like one dividing into two or cloning. That seems much easier than two cooperating to produce one! Why is sexual reproduction so universal, even among flowers, protists, fungi, and bacteria? What are the exceptions?

Here's a photo gallery of sexy flowers "doing it" or at least advertising that they are ready to exchange genetic material. From left to right, top to bottom, they are: Swallowtail butterfly on Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea maculosa); Pickleweed (Salicornia virginica); Western Sycamore (Platanus racemosa); Humboldt Lily (Lilium humboldtii); Fuschia-flowered Gooseberry (Ribes speciosum); Chaparral Pea (Pickeringia montana); Beavertail Cactus (Opuntia basilaris); Mariposa Lily (Calochortus venustus); and Horsetail (Equisetum laevigatum?). The first and last photos are from the North Umpqua River in Oregon, the cactus is from Owens Valley, California, and the rest are near home in Santa Barbara, California. I have more sexy flower photos at my Blowing in the Wind (6 April 2001) stumper about wind-pollinated plants.


"The birds and the bees" is the traditional euphemism for sexual reproduction, but it's a puzzling phrase. For one thing, the worker bees we always see are not fertile. Bart Simpson raises the question: "What a day, eh Milhouse? The sun is out, birds are singing, bees are trying to have sex with them - as is my understanding...." Why birds and bees??


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Copyright © 2003 by Marc Kummel /