Nature on our door steps: Easy pickings!

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

The relationship between flowers and insects has evolved over millennia to benefit both sides of the partnership.

Flowers use insects to transfer their pollen to other flowers of the same species so that fertilisation and seed development occurs. Insects benefit by gathering the energy-rich nectar and pollen that flowers offer as a reward for their pollination services.

This pollen dusted bumblebee has easily filled both of her pollen baskets. 1

This pollen-dusted bumblebee has easily filled both of her pollen baskets

Some plants, however, ended this relationship a long time ago.

It costs plants a lot of energy to produce nectar and colourful petals to attract insects, most of whom do not fly in wet or windy weather. Pollination and seed-setting, therefore, may not always be successful.

For these reasons some plants rely solely on the wind, presenting their stamens (pollen-producing plant parts) directly into the wind for pollen dispersal. Without showy petals and a nectar reward, such plants are normally not visited by insects.

Plantain, which grows in grassy lawns and roadside verges, is one such wind-pollinated plant.

Grassy verges like this one in Rathfarnham is the typical habitat for Plantain 1

Grassy verges like this one in Rathfarnham is the typical habitat for Plantain

On their travels, some bumblebees have discovered that Plantain unintentionally offers easy pickings when it comes to gathering large volumes of pollen with very little effort!

By simply bumbling through the dangling stamens, a bumblebee can become completely dusted in pollen, allowing her to easily and quickly fill up her pollen baskets.

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