August 11, 2011 —
The warm days of midsummer bring forth many colorful blooms from ornamental plants and wildflowers alike. The brilliant colors of these flowers serve to attract many different species of critters; they feed or utilize the nectar present at the base of the petals. When animals harvest this nectar, they accidentally perform another important function: pollination.
Those delicious heirloom tomatoes in that lunch-time salad probably got their start when a nectar-gathering insect landed on one of the yellow flowers and transferred pollen from another tomato plant to the stigma of the newly visited flower. Fruit, and ultimately seeds, are produced by the plant after successful pollination. Tomatoes are one of the plants that can self-pollinate from the same flower, but most farmers agree that cross-pollination yields healthier seedlings and bigger fruit.
Bees are considered to be the main pollinators of cultivated and wild plants. However, many other species of insects and birds get into the act. Wasps, flies and hummingbirds are frequently seen on flowers. Even pests such as the Japanese beetle may inadvertently pollinate a flower while feeding on the petals.