Flowers, Jorge, Plants, Trees

bee pollination

Pollination involves the transfer of pollen from one flower to another, resulting in fertilisation. Fertilisation is important as without plants will not produce fruit. It’s likely you don’t need to do anything to ensure pollination, as it’s probable a compatible tree will be in the vicinity. However, it is beneficial to buy a pollination partner to guarantee and improve pollination, boosting yields. 

What is pollination?

Pollination involves the transfer of male reproductive cells from a plant’s male reproductive organ to a plant’s female reproductive organ, in within there are female reproductive cells. The reproductive cells then fuse, forming a new cell, which divides rapidly eventually forming a seed. 

In plants, male reproductive cells are located within pollen cells, which are found on flowers, on the part known as the stamen. The female cells are located within the ovule, found in the ovary, which is part of the carpel. Often, both the male and female reproductive organs are found on the same flower – such flowers are known as perfect flowers – but sometimes they are not. Sometimes, male and female reproductive organs are found on different trees, known as male and female trees.

flower parts

The male reproductive cells must be compatible with female reproductive cells or otherwise fertilisation will be inhibited. Fertilisation can be inhibited if two varieties are too closely related or too distantly related. Some varieties – known as self-fertile plants – can fertilise themselves, while others – known as self-sterile plants – can’t, and therefore need to be partnered with another variety. 

As pollination is sexual reproduction, resultant offspring necessarily contain information from both male and female reproductive cells. Therefore, the seeds of any fruit will be of a different variety than that of the parent. (This is true even in the case of self-fertilisation, because of genetic recombination and Mendel’s law of segregation.)

Most plants, including most fruit trees, rely on insects, primarily bees, to transfer pollen between flowers, but some rely on the wind. 

walnut flowers
The male and female flowers of a walnut. Walnuts rely on the wind for pollination. Picture credit: Dalgial licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

What we are interested in is not fertilisation, but the production of fruit, which unfortunately, most trees will not bear without fertilisation. This is because fleshy fruit develops from the ovary, which encloses the ovules that form seeds.

Do I have to worry about pollination?

If you live in an urban area, it’s probable there will be another compatible tree in the vicinity, and as bees forage for miles, there is a high chance of pollination. If you live in an isolated location, where you can’t be certain of another compatible tree, it might be best to buy a pollination partner.

Now, just because you live in an urban area, it doesn’t mean there is no benefit to buying a pollination partner, which will not only guarantee pollination, but help improve pollination. You can tell if a plant has been poorly pollinated, if it’s fruits are small, misshapen and have few seeds.

Low temperatures impede pollination as frost can damage blossoms, which will fail to turn into fruit. Early flowering stone fruits, such as almonds and apricots, are especially vulnerable, and the former will not reliably crop in the UK. As bees will not forage when it is cold or windy, bad weather impedes pollination also.

fruit trees flowering timeline

As pollination is primarily carried out by bees, it’s necessary that insects can access your flowers. It’s also necessary that two varieties flower in the same period. Hence, why trees are put into flowering groups, with any variety being able to pollinate another in +-1 flowering group. Flowering groups are preferred to specific dates, as plants will flower at different times in different parts of the country. A variety in flowering group 1 will always flower before a variety in flowering group 2.

apple pollination groups

pear pollination groups

cherry pollination groups

Unfortunately, even if a plant is in the same flowering group, it doesn’t mean pollination is guaranteed, due to genetic incompatibility. Cherries are notorious for this, so it’s always best to buy a self-fertile variety. Triploids, such as Bramley, are sterile and are unable to pollinate other species. So, if you want a triploid, it’s necessary to partner with two non-triploid varieties. 

Different species can sometimes pollinate one another. Famously, crabapples can pollinate apples, and are often used as part of an orchard to help with pollination. Ornamental cherries, however, can’t pollinate cherry fruit trees. 

cherry and apple pollination compatibility diagram

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

Flowers, Jorge, Plants, Trees

Conifers were once the dominant tree on earth.

Of all the complex plants we recognise, most are seed-bearing plants (spermatophytes). This includes all flowering plants and evergreen trees, but excludes ferns, horsetails and other clades (group of organisms that share a single ancestor) that reproduce through spores.

Spermatophytes can be divided into gymnosperms and angiosperms. Both require the transfer of pollen to facilitate fertilisation, but only angiosperms rely on novel methods of pollination. Gymnosperms predominantly rely on the wind.

Angiosperms are unique in that they have flowers. Most species have flowers with both male and female organs. Stamens are the pollen-producing organs and are known collectively as the androecium. Carpels are the female organ(s) and are known collectively as the gynoecium. Carpels are composed of an upper, fertile part and lower, sterile part known as the style and ovary respectively. At the top of the style is the stigma on which pollen grains land, prior to the fertilisation of the immature seeds or ovules within the ovary. This explains angiosperms’ Latin-Greek roots angi-sperma “enclosed-seeds”.

flower parts

In the above image, the plant has one carpel, but some flowers possess multiple carpels, which can lead to different or separate ovaries. Below you can see blue passion flower, with five stamens and three carpels, leading to a single ovary.

blue_passion_flower

When compatible pollen lands on a stigma, it germinates, forming a pollen tube. The tube grows down the tissue of the style and deposits sperm for the fertilisation of the ovules. In the ovary, the pollen fuses with the ovule, producing a zygote, which develops into an embryo. Eventually, the ovules form seeds and the ovary fruit.

Poor fertilisation (a lack of fertilised ovules) leads to abnormal development and asymmetrical fruits. Fruit size is positively correlated with seed number in such species as strawberry, kiwifruit and apple. So, as a rule, the more seeds a fruit contains the bigger it is.

The number of carpels determine a fruit’s anatomy with single carpel flowers producing a fruit with one or two (1-2) seeds such as peaches, cherries and other species in the Prunus genus. Multiple carpel flowers produce fruit with more than two (2+) seeds such as apples, pears, quinces and so on.

The positioning of the carpels vis-a-vis other floral organs also determines a fruit’s anatomy. Flowers can be divided into 3 categories: hypogynous, perigynous and epigynous, which produce persimmon type, apple type and peach type fruit respectively.

An interesting fact about epigynous flowers is their ability to produce parthenocarpic or seedless fruit, owing to the ovary’s close attachment to surrounding tissue. As a result, the Williams’ Bon Chrétien pear can sometimes produce fruit in the absence of pollination. (Despite this, the fruit will likely be smaller due to the absence of growth-hormones usually released when a flower is pollinated.)

Not all angiosperms have perfect flowers – flowers with both male and female organs. Some have separate male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers (known as imperfect flowers), sometimes on the same tree, sometimes on separate trees. Some bear both perfect flowers and staminate and pistillate flowers. Trees with both staminate and pistillate organs are monoecious and trees with either staminate and pistillate flowers are dioecious.

These different flowers can be explained in the fact that they have evolved to encourage pollination by wind or animals. Male wind-pollinated flowers have lightweight pollen grains, exposed anthers. Female wind-pollinated have outstretched stigmas with large surface areas. Both forgo showy petals.

The male and female flowers of a walnut. Picture credit: Dalgial licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Animal-pollinated flowers are necessarily perfect with male and female organs on a single flower. They are set up to attract, reward and facilitate contact with pollinators with large, colourful petals, large, nutritious pollen grains, nectaries (easily available nectar) and long stigmas.

Nectaries of a camellia. Picture credit: Daiju Azuma licensed under  CC BY-SA 3.0.

Gymnosperms produce unenclosed seeds, hence the Greek gymnospermos meaning naked-seeds. They lack the fancy features of angiosperms such as calyx, corolla, stamens and carpels as they rely on wind-pollination. Most species consist of pollen-producing cones (staminate strobili) and seed-producing cones (ovulate strobili).

At one point in time all trees on earth were gymnosperms. Angiosperms emerged in the Triassic period, and by the Early Cretaceous period had developed flowers. Flowers conveyed a powerful evolutionary advantage as by the Late Cretaceous period they had become dominant.

As most plants need to be fertilised to produce offspring, the offspring inevitably contains genetic information from both the male and female reproductive cells (gametes). This means the offspring is different than the parent plant, even in the case of self-fertilisation. (This is due to genetic recombination and Mendel’s law of segregation. In essence, the parent’s genome is rearranged.)

By using animals as a means to reproduce, angiosperms were able create offspring with genetic information from further afield. This increased genetic variability, creating offspring better adapted to different environments. Self-sterility played an important role in this by forcing certain varieties to seek radically different genetic information.

(With self-sterile plants, genetically similar pollen tubes are destroyed, preventing fertilisation of the ovules. This occurs as the carpel produces an enzyme that penetrates the pollen tube. The enzyme is either destroyed by the pollen’s protein or left alone. If left alone, the enzyme inhibits the pollen’s mechanism of building protein and it stops growing, preventing inbreeding.)

Flowers produced a huge disparity in species between the clades with around 300,000 angiosperms existing today, but only around 1,000 gymnosperms. The remaining major divisions of gymnosperms include pinophyta (conifers), cycadophyta (cycads), ginkgophyta and gnetophyta.

The most famous, conifers, still occupy large areas of the world and are sought for their fast-growing timber. They are suited to cold regions owing to their needle-shape leaves that both reduce evaporation and ensure snow slides easily off, preventing branch breakages. Cycads are unique among gymnosperms in that they evolved to be pollinated by beetles. Ginkgophyta only contains a single living species, the Ginkgo or Maidenhair tree.

Angiosperms contain nearly all other complex plants and are of vital importance to humans, producing all fruit with the exception of pine and ginkgo nuts. Their showy flowers make them popular with gardeners, although evergreen conifers are often used by landscapers to provide screening.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

Current Issues, Flowers, Gary

remembrance poppy

On the eleventh of November 1918, France fell silent as men all over Europe put down rifles and stepped out of trenches – the world began to slowly awake from a five-year nightmare: millions were dead, hundreds of thousands injured and the world map changed forever. One hundred years on, the symbol most synonymous with the chaos of the First World War is not the stone crosses that sit on village greens across the country, but a small red flower.

poppy symbol remembrance

Every year, around the start of November, the poppy begins to appear on the coats and jackets of almost everyone you walk past on the street. These little paper flowers are one of the key markers of the year and have become an integral part of how we remember those who have died in conflict. But why has this symbol become so prevalent?

The plant was a cornerstone of the British Opium Trade and the wars it caused, but at this time it was merely a crop plant and only became associated with conflict during the Napoleonic wars.

The history of our current relationship with the poppy begins on the 3rd of May 1915, during the second battle of Ypres. John McCrae was an officer in the Canadian expeditionary force, and he had just presided over the funeral of a close friend. As he sat on the back of an ambulance he began writing the poem that would become “In Flanders Fields”: one of the best-known pieces in the cannon of wartime poetry. It is this poem that starts the story of the poppy as we know it today.

John McCrae
John McCrae

Much poetry from this time in the war makes reference to the poppy. The small red flower was a welcome burst of colour amongst grey upturned earth and a reminder that a world beyond no man’s land existed. The summer of 1915 saw an explosion of the flowers across the newly fertilized battlefields of France. The irony that all this new life came from their fallen comrades was not lost on the soldiers. To them, the millions of flowers that sprouted that summer were a symbol of hope at a time when attitudes in the trenches were changing. The chivalric dreams of unready teenagers were giving way to the realities of war and it’s horrors. The melancholy poems that poured out of the front at the time track this seachange in attitudes.

McCrae’s poem was published in Canada a few months later and it quickly took hold in the Canadian psyche as a symbol of remembrance. The poppy was such an important aspect of National mourning at the time that in 1918 – three days before the end of the war – Professor Moina Michael vowed to wear a poppy as a private symbol of remembrance, and did so for many years.

Moina Michael

After the war, Moina became a teacher to disabled veterans and soon found that many of them were struggling financially as they were unable to work. In an effort to help, Moina began selling silk poppies to raise funds and the practice was soon adopted by the British Legion Appeal Fund (later The Royal British Legion). 1921 saw the first poppy appeal in the UK, and since then it has been held every year; raising money to help veterans and those affected by war. 2018 marks the centenary of the armistice and the poppy is still one of the most recognisable signs of remembrance for many around the world.

Gary ClarkeGary works in the Primrose product loading team, writing product descriptions and other copy. With seven years as a professional chef under his belt, he can usually be found experimenting in the kitchen or sat reading a book.

See all of Gary’s posts.

Flowers, Gardening, Megan

With many of us undertaking the daily grind, we are often unable to enjoy our gardens during the daytime unless it is the weekend. So why not plan your garden around the time you get to spend in it? There are a number of aspects of a moon garden that will allow you to enjoy it in the dim light of the evening and throughout the night if the moon is out. A moon garden’s purpose is to make the most of the natural light, in addition to flooding your senses with bright white blooms and relaxing aromas.

Moon Gardens

Fragrance

Sight is not the only sense that can be ignited in the garden – choosing fragrant flowers with strong scents will help you connect with nature in more than just a visual way. What’s more is you can enjoy fragrant blooms even when the moon is stuck behind the clouds and your garden lacks the light to be enjoyed with your eyes.

Some of our favourite more fragrant blooms are as follows:

Moon Gardens

Of course a lot of the time plants with fragrant foliage are forgotten about, but they definitely have a place in your moon garden:

  • Myrtle – an evergreen shrub with a fresh, clear scent to its foliage
  • Rosemary – the well known herb, that is popular with bees, has a woody & pungent aroma
  • Eucalyptus – an evergreen tree with a minty, pine scent

Moon Gardens

Night Bloomers

Night bloomers are flowers that bloom best at night. Although many do still give out aroma during the day, if you venture into your garden after dark these flowers will let out an even more pungent aroma that will be sure to delight you. Here are some examples:

  • Evening Primrose – this sweet-smelling perennial will also give your garden a splash of bright yellow colour
  • Moonflower – the white flowers of moonflower only open at night and have a crisp, clean scent
  • Japanese Wisteria – a vigorous woody climber, wisteria has a beautiful lilac colour and a sweet, pleasant aroma

Moon Gardens

White Blooms

White is the colour that shows up best at night, so when planning a moon garden you might want to mostly consider white flowers. An abundance of white is best and will be optimum for showing up in the darkness or under moonlight.

Here are some of our top picks for white flowers:

  • Lilac
  • Sweet Autumn Clematis
  • Shasta Daisy
  • Lily-of-the-Valley
  • Iceberg Rose

Moon Gardens

Daytime is not the only time you can enjoy your garden. Creating a moon garden will encourage you to make the most of the outside when you have the time to.