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Treebeard's Stumper
6 April 2001

Blowing in the Wind

We all learn that flowers attract insects to carry their pollen from plant to plant. But my sinuses tell me otherwise. I've had hay fever lately from all the pollen in the air that's being carried by the wind instead of the bees. Grasses, oaks, pines, and willows are all wind-pollinated plants that don't need insects at all. They have simplified flowers without petals that release lots of pollen for the wind to carry. What's odd is that these are the same plants that dominate the landscape. Does this mean that attractive flowers are unnecessary and could become obsolete?

Male pollen-bearing catkins on Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia). The female flowers appear later and are less noticeable. This is the dominant tree in our local Central California foothills. The simplified flowers have no petals. They're attractive enough once you notice them, but their job is to shed pollen in the wind, not to attract insects (or people). Pines and other conifers, willows and cottonwoods, walnuts and box elder, all grasses, sagebrush, coyote bush, saltbush, many weeds, and many more local species are wind-pollinated plants that don't need insects for pollination. Does this mean that our familiar flowers that need insect-pollination are doing it the hard way and might disappear?

Answer


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Copyright © 2001 by Marc Kummel / mkummel@rain.org