Learn about the role of flowers in the life cycles of flowering plants. Discover how flowers ensure the transfer of pollen, and meet some of the unsuspecting animal pollinators.

This resource provides explanations of some key concepts encountered when exploring the colourful world of flowers and their pollinators.

Flowering plants (angiosperms)

Two groups of plants use seeds to create new plants. Flowering plants (called angiosperms), have seeds produced in flowers. Cone plants (called gymnosperms) have seeds produced in cones.

Reproduction

All living things, including plants, only live for a limited time. Reproduction is the creation of offspring to ensure that a species continues and increases in numbers.

Sexual reproduction

Male and female sex cells (gametes) come together and develop into a new individual. The offspring has a unique collection of genes, slightly different to either of the parents.

Vegetative reproduction

Many plants can reproduce asexually, with special roots, stems or leaves that can grow to become new plants. These new plants have exactly the same collection of genes as the parent.

Seed

Part of the sexual reproduction of angiosperms (flowering plants) and gymnosperms (cone plants). A seed contains an embryo and its food store, which creates a new plant when conditions are right.

Flower

A special structure for sexual reproduction in flowering plants. It contains male and female parts and features (such as colour, shape and nectar) that encourage pollination.

Pollination

The transfer of pollen from male parts of flowers to female parts.

Cross-pollination

The transfer of pollen from one flower to another flower on a different plant. After fertilisation, genetic material from the two parents becomes mixed, resulting in variation in the population and a better chance of survival.

Self-pollination

The transfer of pollen from the male to the female part of the same flower or another flower on the same plant. No new genes are introduced from other plants.

Pollinator

Pollen cannot move on its own, so it has to be carried by a pollinator. Wind and animals are the commonest pollinators, although a few plants are pollinated by water.

Artificial pollination

Humans cannot always rely on natural pollinators to pollinate their crops or flower experiments. Pollen is therefore collected from flowers and put on female parts using a paintbrush or spray equipment.

Mutualism

A relationship in which two kinds of living organism benefit from each other. For example, an animal might rely on a particular plant for food, and the plant relies on the animal to pollinate its flowers.

    Published 2 June 2012