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Catalina Island Conservancy

Pollinating Catalina

Pollen floats in the air usually unnoticed. But, one way or another, it makes its presence known!

Pollen is one of the primary causes of allergies. There’s even a “pollen index” reported every day on radio and television in some parts of the country.

Allergies aside, pollen is a fascinating product of flowering plants. It’s the male reproductive cells of a plant looking for a mate. Without pollen, there would be no fruits and seeds. Without fruits and seeds, plants cannot reproduce.

Up close, pollen is also quite amazing—you see strange shapes, knobs, spines and dimples. One day we may even dedicate one of these electronic photo albums to pollen and seeds. However, this time we want to talk about how pollen is used by plants and animals.

Some plants use the wind to spread their pollen. Oaks, cattails and pine trees are all wind-pollinated. They produce lots of pollen that float in the air, sometimes traveling huge distances. Some pollen will land on the “pistil,” or female parts of a flower, germinate (literally, like microscopic little seeds), and perform the miracle of fertilization. Other plants, especially those that not produce such copious amounts of pollen, use other ways to spread their pollen from flower to flower – insects.

The story of the relationship between plants (through their flowers) and insects is a long running “arms race.” Flowers need insects to move their pollen from one flower to another, so they entice insects through scent, color, nectar and pollen itself. The insects use the nectar as an energy drink. Some, like butterflies, can actually live on nectar. Others use the pollen to feed their larvae. So, it is a mutually beneficial relationship.

Catalina is no exception. Visit this month’s story and photo gallery to see some examples of Catalina’s pollen producers and their insect associates.

Visit Photo Gallery