How Plants Attract Pollinators

Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male part of the flower to the female part of the flower so that a seed can be formed.   Pollinators include (but are not limited to) butterflies, bees of all sorts, moths, beetles, mice, bats, and even wind.

Student Drawing of a Butterfly Flower

Notice that a flower is necessary for pollination, but not all flowers are equal. Flowers that are attractive to pollinators are more likely to produce seeds. In this lesson, students will learn what pollinators seek when they visit a plant. Flowers that match pollinators’ desires stand a good chance of being pollinated by the visitor. This is because the visitor (bat, bee, etc.) may unwittingly transfer pollen from the male plant part to the female plant part and pollination occurs.

So many lessons can be based upon this today’s lesson; this is just an exploratory lesson to help students see flowers in a new way. Spring is an excellent season for the lesson. It can be eye-opening!

Science standards are noted at the end of the lesson.

Lesson activity:

  1. The instructor reads through the pollinator descriptions and cuts them into separate slips, duplicating some if necessary so that each student or group of students has a pollinator slip. The descriptions are written from the viewpoint of the pollinator since it’s often more fun for students to actually assume the role. The descriptions follow.
  2. Ask the students to read the slips carefully, then draw and color a flower type that would attract that pollinator. The flower does not have to be a real flower; students should use their imagination to build a flower using the clues. Use labels if necessary to supplement the drawings. Discuss how students might indicate such features as “odor” on their drawings, or time of day. Add the name of the pollinator to the drawing, or show it visiting the flower. Give your flower a name.
  3. After students have completed their drawings, ask them to share their drawings with the class and explain how the flower would attract their pollinator.

    student drawing of a fly-pollinated flower
    Student drawing of an imaginary flower that a fly might visit
honey bee pollinated flower by student
Student Drawing of an imaginary flower that a honey bee might visit

 

You are a moth. You come out at night, and have very poor eyesight. Flowers that glow or reflect light may attract you. Light-colored flowers that show against the night sky are best. Fragrance helps you find the flowers. You have a long tongue and can reach deep into flowers. You need lots of nectar to keep you warm during the night, so flowers with lots of sweet nectar are a true gift. It’s especially nice if these flowers only open at night, so other pollinators don’t get to them. You don’t care so much about pollen.

You are a honey bee. You need both pollen and nectar. Pollen for protein and nectar for energy. You can figure out tricky flower mechanisms to get what you need, burrowing inside. You have a short tongue so flowers with deep nectar tubes are troublesome; sometimes you just bite into the back of the blossom!  Your eyesight is not precise, so you like masses of flowers, especially yellow and blue. Fragrance, color and hidden ultraviolet markings help you find the flowers and nectar. You need a landing pad on the flower, or a place to grab while feeding on nectar. You feed during the day. You can hang upside down if necessary.

You are a fly. You like smelly plants, or ones in the brown color range. Perhaps these flowers remind you of rotting meat. You look for easy, flat flowers for landing. You fly during the day. You have a short tongue, so you can’t reach nectar in deep flowers.

You are a beetle.  You like big groups of small white flowers, or brushy flowers so you can grip easily.  Some flowers which look like a single “bloom” are actually clusters of tiny flowers which beetles like.  You can’t fly well, so you want flowers with lots of pollen grouped together in one spot.

You are a bat. You fly at night, so flowers that open after dusk are favored. White or light-colored flowers attract you most, and ones that have lots of nectar to help you through the night. It’s also very nice if the flowers are lifted up into the sky. Sweet smelling flowers attract you.

You are the wind and you go where you will. Although you pollinate many flowers, you don’t give a hoot about flower shape, color or scent. However, flowers that make their pollen openly available and flowers that produce lots of pollen are more likely to be pollinated by you.

You are a butterfly. You like to test flowers for nectar by tasting with your feet, so flowers that are flat provide a handy landing pad. Yellow and blue  flowers are especially attractive. Some butterflies swarm around bushes with large spikes of blue flowers because they can move easily from one small flower to another. Nectar is more important than pollen for you. In fact, you can’t eat pollen because your mouth part is only a long tube. You only venture out on warm sunny days.

Teacher notes and extensions:

  1. Wind-pollinated plants often have non-showy or green flowers, such as grasses and some trees. Don’t tell the students this in advance, let them puzzle it out for themselves.
  2. After the exercise, go on a flower walk and look for pollinators – or discuss which type of pollinator they are most likely to attract. Students will be so much more knowledgeable after designing their own flowers
  3. Bring in a selection of flowers in vases. Ask the students to do their best to match flower to pollinator.
  4. Look up pollinator mouth parts, wings and legs on the internet or in books. Discuss how these parts help the pollinator gather nectar and/or pollen.
  5. Look up a simple flower diagram and find which parts produce pollen, receive pollen, and produce nectar.
  6. Taste nectar from flowers such as honeysuckle, clover or nasturtium.
  7. The pollinator notes are very basic. You can search for more information on plant-pollinator interactions in many books or the internet.

Science Standards:

  1. Understanding how plants and animals adapt to their environment.
  2. Understanding flowering parts and seed production.
  3. Learning to communicate scientifically with drawings, labels and oral presentations.

 

 

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