The mechanics of pollination

HGA newsletter, June 2004

Bryan Thomas recently attended two lectures given by Professor Karl Niklas who is a visiting Erskine fellow at the University of Canterbury. He is the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Plant Biology at Cornell University. The subjects of his lectures were “Allometry of plant growth” and “The Biomechanics of Wind Pollination”.

The Biometrics of Wind Pollination

In this lecture Professor Niklas demonstrated his work on airflow around female wind pollinated flower structures and how the shape influences the airflow, and the consequences for successful pollination. Using pine trees as the prime example he carried out wind tunnel tests on receptive pinecones and plotted the course of both neutrally buoyant bubbles and actual pollen grains around the cone. The cones were surprisingly efficient at trapping pollen grains in eddies circulating around and through the cones and that, by placing the actual flower deep within the cone in an apparently inaccessible position, the chance of a pollen grain landing in the right place was enhanced.

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