Pollination and Fertilization

Pollination and Fertilization

Plants can transfer pollen through self-pollination; however, the preferred method is cross-pollination, which maintains genetic diversity.

Learning Objectives

Determine the differences between self-pollination and cross-pollination, and describe how plants have developed ways to avoid self-pollination

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Pollination, the transfer of pollen from flower-to-flower in angiosperms or cone -to-cone in gymnosperms, takes place through self-pollination or cross-pollination.
  • Cross-pollination is the most advantageous of the two types of pollination since it provides species with greater genetic diversity.
  • Maturation of pollen and ovaries at different times and heterostyly are methods plants have developed to avoid self-pollination.
  • The placement of male and female flowers on separate plants or different parts of the plant are also barriers to self-pollination.

Key Terms

  • pollination: the transfer of pollen from an anther to a stigma that is carried out by insects, birds, bats, and the wind
  • heterostyly: the condition of having unequal male (anther) and female (stigma) reproductive organs
  • cross-pollination: fertilization by the transfer of pollen from an anther of one plant to a stigma of another
  • self-pollination: pollination of a flower by its own pollen in a flower that has both stamens and a pistil

Pollination: An Introduction

In angiosperms, pollination is defined as the placement or transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma of the same or a different flower. In gymnosperms, pollination involves pollen transfer from the male cone to the female cone. Upon transfer, the pollen germinates to form the pollen tube and the sperm that fertilize the egg.

Self-Pollination and Cross-Pollination

Pollination takes two forms: self-pollination and cross-pollination. Self-pollination occurs when the pollen from the anther is deposited on the stigma of the same flower or another flower on the same plant. Cross-pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anther of one flower to the stigma of another flower on a different individual of the same species. Self-pollination occurs in flowers where the stamen and carpel mature at the same time and are positioned so that the pollen can land on the flower’s stigma. This method of pollination does not require an investment from the plant to provide nectar and pollen as food for pollinators. These types of pollination have been studied since the time of Gregor Mendel. Mendel successfully carried out self-pollination and cross-pollination in garden peas while studying how characteristics were passed on from one generation to the next. Today’s crops are a result of plant breeding, which employs artificial selection to produce the present-day cultivars. An example is modern corn, which is a result of thousands of years of breeding that began with its ancestor, teosinte. The teosinte that the ancient Mesoamericans originally began cultivating had tiny seeds, vastly different from today’s relatively giant ears of corn. Interestingly, though these two plants appear to be entirely different, the genetic difference between them is minuscule.

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Teosinte: Teosinte (left) is the ancestor of modern corn (far-right). Although they are morphologically dissimilar, genetically they are not so different.

Genetic Diversity

Living species are designed to ensure survival of their progeny; those that fail become extinct. Genetic diversity is, therefore, required so that in changing environmental or stress conditions, some of the progeny can survive. Self-pollination leads to the production of plants with less genetic diversity since genetic material from the same plant is used to form gametes and, eventually, the zygote. In contrast, cross-pollination leads to greater genetic diversity because the male and female gametophytes are derived from different plants. Because cross-pollination allows for more genetic diversity, plants have developed many ways to avoid self-pollination. In some species, the pollen and the ovary mature at different times. These flowers make self-pollination nearly impossible. By the time pollen matures and has been shed, the stigma of this flower is mature and can only be pollinated by pollen from another flower. Some flowers have developed physical features that prevent self-pollination. The primrose employs this technique. Primroses have evolved two flower types with differences in anther and stigma length: the pin-eyed flower and the thrum-eyed flower. In the pin-eyed flower, anthers are positioned at the pollen tube’s halfway point, and in the thrum-eyed flower, the stigma is found at this same location. This allows insects to easily cross-pollinate while seeking nectar at the pollen tube. This phenomenon is also known as heterostyly. Many plants, such as cucumbers, have male and female flowers located on different parts of the plant, thus making self-pollination difficult. In other species, the male and female flowers are borne on different plants, making them dioecious. All of these are barriers to self-pollination; therefore, the plants depend on pollinators to transfer pollen. The majority of pollinators are biotic agents such as insects (bees, flies, and butterflies), bats, birds, and other animals. Other plant species are pollinated by abiotic agents, such as wind and water.

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Pollinators: To maximize their avoidance of self-pollination, plants have evolved relationships with animals, such as bees, to ensure cross-pollination between members of the same species.

Pollination by Insects

Plants have developed adaptations to promote symbiotic relationships with insects that ensure their pollination.

Learning Objectives

Explain how pollination by insects aids plant reproduction

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Adaptations such as bright colors, strong fragrances, special shapes, and nectar guides are used to attract suitable pollinators.
  • Important insect pollinators include bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, and moths.
  • Bees and butterflies are attracted to brightly-colored flowers that have a strong scent and are open during the day, whereas moths are attracted to white flowers that are open at night.
  • Flies are attracted to dull brown and purple flowers that have an odor of decaying meat.
  • Nectar guides, which are only visible to certain insects, facilitate pollination by guiding bees to the pollen at the center of flowers.
  • Insects and flowers both benefit from their specialized symbiotic relationships; plants are pollinated while insects obtain valuable sources of food.

Key Terms

  • nectar guide: markings or patterns seen in flowers of some angiosperm species that guide pollinators to nectar or pollen

Pollination by Insects

Bees

Bees are perhaps the most important pollinator of many garden plants and most commercial fruit trees. The most common species of bees are bumblebees and honeybees. Since bees cannot see the color red, bee-pollinated flowers usually have shades of blue, yellow, or other colors. Bees collect energy -rich pollen or nectar for their survival and energy needs. They visit flowers that are open during the day, are brightly colored, have a strong aroma or scent, and have a tubular shape, typically with the presence of a nectar guide. A nectar guide includes regions on the flower petals that are visible only to bees, which help guide bees to the center of the flower, thus making the pollination process more efficient. The pollen sticks to the bees’ fuzzy hair; when the bee visits another flower, some of the pollen is transferred to the second flower. Recently, there have been many reports about the declining population of honeybees. Many flowers will remain unpollinated, failing to bear seeds if honeybees disappear. The impact on commercial fruit growers could be devastating.

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Pollination by insects: Insects, such as bees, are important agents of pollination. Bees are probably the most important species of pollinators for commercial and garden plant species.

Flies

Many flies are attracted to flowers that have a decaying smell or an odor of rotting flesh. These flowers, which produce nectar, usually have dull colors, such as brown or purple. They are found on the corpse flower or voodoo lily (Amorphophallus), dragon arum (Dracunculus), and carrion flower (Stapleia, Rafflesia). The nectar provides energy while the pollen provides protein. Wasps are also important insect pollinators, pollinating many species of figs.

Butterflies and Moths

Butterflies, such as the monarch, pollinate many garden flowers and wildflowers, which are usually found in clusters. These flowers are brightly colored, have a strong fragrance, are open during the day, and have nectar guides. The pollen is picked up and carried on the butterfly’s limbs. Moths, on the other hand, pollinate flowers during the late afternoon and night. The flowers pollinated by moths are pale or white and are flat, enabling the moths to land. One well-studied example of a moth-pollinated plant is the yucca plant, which is pollinated by the yucca moth. The shape of the flower and moth have adapted in a way to allow successful pollination. The moth deposits pollen on the sticky stigma for fertilization to occur later. The female moth also deposits eggs into the ovary. As the eggs develop into larvae, they obtain food from the flower and developing seeds. Thus, both the insect and flower benefit from each other in this symbiotic relationship. The corn earworm moth and Gaura plant have a similar relationship.

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Moths as pollinators: A corn earworm (a moth) sips nectar from a night-blooming Gaura plant. Both the moth and plant benefit from each other as they have formed a symbiotic relationship; the plant is pollinated while the moth is able to obtain food.

Pollination by Bats, Birds, Wind, and Water

Non-insect methods of pollination include pollination by bats, birds, wind, and water.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate among the non-insect methods of pollination

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Flowers that are pollinated by bats bloom at night, tending to be large, wide-mouthed, and pale-colored; they may also give off strong scents.
  • Flowers that are pollinated by small birds usually have curved, tubular shapes; birds carry the pollen off on their heads and neck to the next flower they visit.
  • Wind-pollinated flowers do not produce scents or nectar; instead, they tend to have small or no petals and to produce large amounts of lightweight pollen.
  • Some species of flowers release pollen that can float on water; pollination occurs when the pollen reaches another plant of the same species.
  • Some flowers deceive pollinators through food or sexual deception; the pollinators become attracted to the flowers with false promises of food and mating opportunities.

Key Terms

  • food deception: a trickery method employed by some species of orchids in which only bright colors and perfume are offered to their pollinators with no food reward

Non-Insect Methods of Pollination

Plants have developed specialized adaptations to take advantage of non-insect forms of pollination. These methods include pollination by bats, birds, wind, and water.

Pollination by Bats

In the tropics and deserts, bats are often the pollinators of nocturnal flowers such as agave, guava, and morning glory. The flowers are usually large and white or pale-colored so that they can be distinguished from their dark surroundings at night. The flowers have a strong, fruity, or musky fragrance and produce large amounts of nectar. They are naturally-large and wide-mouthed to accommodate the head of the bat. As the bats seek the nectar, their faces and heads become covered with pollen, which is then transferred to the next flower.

Pollination by Birds

Many species of small birds, such as hummingbirds and sun birds, are pollinators for plants such as orchids and other wildflowers. Flowers visited by birds are usually sturdy and are oriented in a way to allow the birds to stay near the flower without getting their wings entangled in the nearby flowers. The flower typically has a curved, tubular shape, which allows access for the bird’s beak. Brightly-colored, odorless flowers that are open during the day are pollinated by birds. As a bird seeks energy-rich nectar, pollen is deposited on the bird’s head and neck and is then transferred to the next flower it visits. Botanists determine the range of extinct plants by collecting and identifying pollen from 200-year-old bird specimens from the same site.

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Pollination by birds: Hummingbirds have adaptations that allow them to reach the nectar of certain tubular flowers, thereby, aiding them in the process of pollination.

Pollination by Wind

Most species of conifers and many angiosperms, such as grasses, maples, and oaks, are pollinated by wind. Pine cones are brown and unscented, while the flowers of wind-pollinated angiosperm species are usually green, small, may have small or no petals, and produce large amounts of pollen. Unlike the typical insect-pollinated flowers, flowers adapted to pollination by wind do not produce nectar or scent. In wind-pollinated species, the microsporangia hang out of the flower, and, as the wind blows, the lightweight pollen is carried with it. The flowers usually emerge early in the spring before the leaves so that the leaves do not block the movement of the wind. The pollen is deposited on the exposed feathery stigma of the flower.

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Wind pollination: These male (a) and female (b) catkins from the goat willow tree (Salix caprea) have structures that are light and feathery to better disperse and catch the wind-blown pollen.

Pollination by Water

Some weeds, such as Australian sea grass and pond weeds, are pollinated by water. The pollen floats on water. When it comes into contact with the flower, it is deposited inside the flower.

Pollination by Deception

Orchids are highly-valued flowers, with many rare varieties. They grow in a range of specific habitats, mainly in the tropics of Asia, South America, and Central America. At least 25,000 species of orchids have been identified.

Flowers often attract pollinators with food rewards, in the form of nectar. However, some species of orchid are an exception to this standard; they have evolved different ways to attract the desired pollinators. They use a method known as food deception, in which bright colors and perfumes are offered, but no food. Anacamptis morio, commonly known as the green-winged orchid, bears bright purple flowers and emits a strong scent. The bumblebee, its main pollinator, is attracted to the flower because of the strong scent, which usually indicates food for a bee. In the process, the bee picks up the pollen to be transported to another flower.

Other orchids use sexual deception. Chiloglottis trapeziformis emits a compound that smells the same as the pheromone emitted by a female wasp to attract male wasps. The male wasp is attracted to the scent, lands on the orchid flower, and, in the process, transfers pollen. Some orchids, like the Australian hammer orchid, use scent as well as visual trickery in yet another sexual deception strategy to attract wasps. The flower of this orchid mimics the appearance of a female wasp and emits a pheromone. The male wasp tries to mate with what appears to be a female wasp, but instead picks up pollen, which it then transfers to the next counterfeit mate.

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Pollination by deception in orchids: Certain orchids use food deception or sexual deception to attract pollinators. Shown here is a bee orchid (Ophrys apifera).

Double Fertilization in Plants

Angiosperms undergo two fertilization events where a zygote and endosperm are both formed.

Learning Objectives

Describe the process of double fertilization in plants

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Double fertilization involves two sperm cells; one fertilizes the egg cell to form the zygote, while the other fuses with the two polar nuclei that form the endosperm.
  • After fertilization, the fertilized ovule forms the seed while the tissues of the ovary become the fruit.
  • In the first stage of embryonic development, the zygote divides to form two cells; one will develop into a suspensor, while the other gives rise to a proembryo.
  • In the second stage of embryonic development (in eudicots), the developing embryo has a heart shape due to the presence of cotyledons.
  • As the embryo grows, it begins to bend as it fills the seed; at this point, the seed is ready for dispersal.

Key Terms

  • double fertilization: a complex fertilization mechanism that has evolved in flowering plants; involves the joining of a female gametophyte with two male gametes (sperm)
  • suspensor: found in plant zygotes in angiosperms; connects the endosperm to the embryo and provides a route for nutrition from the mother plant to the growing embryo
  • proembryo: a cluster of cells in the ovule of a fertilized flowering plant that has not yet formed into an embryo

Double Fertilization

After pollen is deposited on the stigma, it must germinate and grow through the style to reach the ovule. The microspores, or the pollen, contain two cells: the pollen tube cell and the generative cell. The pollen tube cell grows into a pollen tube through which the generative cell travels. The germination of the pollen tube requires water, oxygen, and certain chemical signals. As it travels through the style to reach the embryo sac, the pollen tube’s growth is supported by the tissues of the style. During this process, if the generative cell has not already split into two cells, it now divides to form two sperm cells. The pollen tube is guided by the chemicals secreted by the synergids present in the embryo sac; it enters the ovule sac through the micropyle. Of the two sperm cells, one sperm fertilizes the egg cell, forming a diploid zygote; the other sperm fuses with the two polar nuclei, forming a triploid cell that develops into the endosperm. Together, these two fertilization events in angiosperms are known as double fertilization. After fertilization is complete, no other sperm can enter. The fertilized ovule forms the seed, whereas the tissues of the ovary become the fruit, usually enveloping the seed.

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Double fertilization: In angiosperms, one sperm fertilizes the egg to form the 2n zygote, while the other sperm fuses with two polar nuclei to form the 3n endosperm. This is called a double fertilization.

After fertilization, embryonic development begins. The zygote divides to form two cells: the upper cell (terminal cell) and the lower cell (basal cell). The division of the basal cell gives rise to the suspensor, which eventually makes connection with the maternal tissue. The suspensor provides a route for nutrition to be transported from the mother plant to the growing embryo. The terminal cell also divides, giving rise to a globular-shaped proembryo. In dicots (eudicots), the developing embryo has a heart shape due to the presence of the two rudimentary cotyledons. In non-endospermic dicots, such as Capsella bursa, the endosperm develops initially, but is then digested. In this case, the food reserves are moved into the two cotyledons. As the embryo and cotyledons enlarge, they become crowded inside the developing seed and are forced to bend. Ultimately, the embryo and cotyledons fill the seed, at which point, the seed is ready for dispersal. Embryonic development is suspended after some time; growth resumes only when the seed germinates. The developing seedling will rely on the food reserves stored in the cotyledons until the first set of leaves begin photosynthesis.

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Embryo development: Shown are the stages of embryo development in the ovule of a shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa). After fertilization, the zygote divides to form an upper terminal cell and a lower basal cell. (a) In the first stage of development, the terminal cell divides, forming a globular pro-embryo. The basal cell also divides, giving rise to the suspensor. (b) In the second stage, the developing embryo has a heart shape due to the presence of cotyledons. (c) In the third stage, the growing embryo is crowded and begins to bend. (d) Eventually, it completely fills the seed.

Development of the Seed

Monocot and dicot seeds develop in differing ways, but both contain seeds with a seed coat, cotyledons, endosperm, and a single embryo.

Learning Objectives

Name the three parts of a seed and describe their functions and development

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In angiosperms, the process of seed production begins with double fertilization while in gymnosperms it does not.
  • In both monocots and dicots, food reserves are stored in the endosperm; however, in non-endospermic dicots, the cotyledons act as the storage.
  • In a seed, the embryo consists of three main parts: the plumule, the radicle, and the hypocotyl.
  • In dicots, the hypocotyls extend above ground, giving rise to the stem of the plant, while in monocots, they remain below ground.
  • In dicot seeds, the radicle grows downwards to form the tap root while lateral roots branch off to all sides, producing a dicot tap root system; in contrast, the end of germination in monocot seeds is marked by the production of a fibrous root system where adventitious roots emerge from the stem.
  • Seed germination is dependent on seed size and whether or not favorable conditions are present.

Key Terms

  • testa: the seed coat
  • radicle: the rudimentary shoot of a plant that supports the cotyledons in the seed and from which the root is developed downward; the root of the embryo
  • hypocotyl: in plants with seeds, the portion of the embryo or seedling between the root and cotyledons
  • plumule: consisting of the apical meristem and the first true leaves of the young plant
  • coleoptile: a pointed sheath that protects the emerging shoot in monocotyledons such as oats and grasses

Development of the Seed

Parts of a Seed

The seed, along with the ovule, is protected by a seed coat that is formed from the integuments of the ovule sac. In dicots, the seed coat is further divided into an outer coat, known as the testa, and inner coat, known as the tegmen. The embryonic axis consists of three parts: the plumule, the radicle, and the hypocotyl. The portion of the embryo between the cotyledon attachment point and the radicle is known as the hypocotyl. The embryonic axis terminates in a radicle, which is the region from which the root will develop.

Seed Growth

In angiosperms, the process of seed development begins with double fertilization and involves the fusion of the egg and sperm nuclei into a zygote. The second part of this process is the fusion of the polar nuclei with a second sperm cell nucleus, thus forming a primary endosperm. Right after fertilization, the zygote is mostly inactive, but the primary endosperm divides rapidly to form the endosperm tissue. This tissue becomes the food the young plant will consume until the roots have developed after germination. The seed coat forms from the two integuments or outer layers of cells of the ovule, which derive from tissue from the mother plant: the inner integument forms the tegmen and the outer forms the testa. When the seed coat forms from only one layer, it is also called the testa, though not all such testae are homologous from one species to the next.

In gymnosperms, the two sperm cells transferred from the pollen do not develop seed by double fertilization, but one sperm nucleus unites with the egg nucleus and the other sperm is not used. Sometimes each sperm fertilizes an egg cell and one zygote is then aborted or absorbed during early development. The seed is composed of the embryo and tissue from the mother plant, which also form a cone around the seed in coniferous plants such as pine and spruce. The ovules after fertilization develop into the seeds.

Food Storage in the Seed

The storage of food reserves in angiosperm seeds differs between monocots and dicots. In monocots, the single cotyledon is called a scutellum; it is connected directly to the embryo via vascular tissue. Food reserves are stored in the large endosperm. Upon germination, enzymes are secreted by the aleurone, a single layer of cells just inside the seed coat that surrounds the endosperm and embryo. The enzymes degrade the stored carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids. These products are absorbed by the scutellum and transported via a vasculature strand to the developing embryo.

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Monocots and dicots: The structures of dicot and monocot seeds are shown. Dicots (left) have two cotyledons. Monocots, such as corn (right), have one cotyledon, called the scutellum, which channels nutrition to the growing embryo. Both monocot and dicot embryos have a plumule that forms the leaves, a hypocotyl that forms the stem, and a radicle that forms the root. The embryonic axis comprises everything between the plumule and the radicle, not including the cotyledon(s).

In endospermic dicots, the food reserves are stored in the endosperm. During germination, the two cotyledons act as absorptive organs to take up the enzymatically-released food reserves, similar to the process in monocots. In non-endospermic dicots, the triploid endosperm develops normally following double fertilization, but the endosperm food reserves are quickly remobilized, moving into the developing cotyledon for storage.

Seed Germination

Upon germination in dicot seeds, the epicotyl is shaped like a hook with the plumule pointing downwards; this plumule hook persists as long as germination proceeds in the dark. Therefore, as the epicotyl pushes through the tough and abrasive soil, the plumule is protected from damage. Upon exposure to light, the hypocotyl hook straightens out, the young foliage leaves face the sun and expand, and the epicotyl continues to elongate. During this time, the radicle is also growing and producing the primary root. As it grows downward to form the tap root, lateral roots branch off to all sides, producing the typical dicot tap root system.

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Monocot seeds: As this monocot grass seed germinates, the primary root, or radicle, emerges first, followed by the primary shoot, or coleoptile, and the adventitious roots.

In monocot seeds, the testa and tegmen of the seed coat are fused. As the seed germinates, the primary root emerges, protected by the root-tip covering: the coleorhiza. Next, the primary shoot emerges, protected by the coleoptile: the covering of the shoot tip. Upon exposure to light, elongation of the coleoptile ceases and the leaves expand and unfold. At the other end of the embryonic axis, the primary root soon dies, while other, adventitious roots emerge from the base of the stem. This produces the fibrous root system of the monocot.

Depending on seed size, the time it takes a seedling to emerge may vary. However, many mature seeds enter a period of dormancy marked by inactivity or extremely-low metabolic activity. This period may last for months, years, or even centuries. Dormancy helps keep seeds viable during unfavorable conditions. Upon a return to optimal conditions, seed germination takes place. These conditions may be as diverse as moisture, light, cold, fire, or chemical treatments. Scarification, the softening of the seed coat, presoaking in hot water, or passing through an acid environment, such as an animal’s digestive tract, may also be needed.

Development of Fruit and Fruit Types

Fruits are categorized based on the part of the flower they developed from and how they release their seeds.

Learning Objectives

Describe the development of a fruit in a flowering plant

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Fruits can be classified as simple, aggregate, multiple, or accessory.
  • Simple fruits develop from a single carpel or fused carpels of a single ovary, while aggregate fruits develop from more than one carpel found on the same flower.
  • Multiple fruits develop from a cluster of flowers, while accessory fruits do not develop from an ovary, but from other parts of a plant.
  • The main parts of a fruit include the exocarp (skin), the mesocarp (middle part), and the endocarp (inner part); these three parts make up the pericarp.
  • Dehiscent fruits promptly release their seeds, while indehiscent fruits rely on decay to release their seeds.

Key Terms

  • exocarp: the outermost covering of the pericarp of fruits; the skin
  • simple fruit: fruit that develops from a single carpel or fused carpels of a single ovary
  • endocarp: the inner part of the fruit
  • mesocarp: middle part of the fruit
  • accessory fruit: a fruit not derived from the ovary but from another part of the flower

Development of Fruit and Fruit Types

After fertilization, the ovary of the flower usually develops into the fruit. Fruits are generally associated with having a sweet taste; however, not all fruits are sweet. The term “fruit” is used for a ripened ovary. In most cases, flowers in which fertilization has taken place will develop into fruits, while unfertilized flowers will not. The fruit encloses the seeds and the developing embryo, thereby providing it with protection. Fruits are diverse in their origin and texture. The sweet tissue of the blackberry, the red flesh of the tomato, the shell of the peanut, and the hull of corn (the tough, thin part that gets stuck in your teeth when you eat popcorn) are all fruits. As the fruit matures, the seeds also mature.

Fruits may be classified as simple, aggregate, multiple, or accessory, depending on their origin. If the fruit develops from a single carpel or fused carpels of a single ovary, it is known as a simple fruit, as seen in nuts and beans. An aggregate fruit is one that develops from numerous carpels that are all in the same flower; the mature carpels fuse together to form the entire fruit, as seen in the raspberry. A multiple fruit develops from an inflorescence or a cluster of flowers. An example is the pineapple where the flowers fuse together to form the fruit. Accessory fruits (sometimes called false fruits) are not derived from the ovary, but from another part of the flower, such as the receptacle (strawberry) or the hypanthium (apples and pears).

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Types of fruit: There are four main types of fruits. Simple fruits, such as these nuts, are derived from a single ovary. Aggregate fruits, like raspberries, form from many carpels that fuse together. Multiple fruits, such as pineapple, form from a cluster of flowers called an inflorescence. Accessory fruits, like apples, are formed from a part of the plant other than the ovary.

Fruits generally have three parts: the exocarp (the outermost skin or covering), the mesocarp (middle part of the fruit), and the endocarp (the inner part of the fruit). Together, all three are known as the pericarp. The mesocarp is usually the fleshy, edible part of the fruit; however, in some fruits, such as the almond, the seed is the edible part (the pit in this case is the endocarp). In many fruits, two, or all three of the layers are fused, and are indistinguishable at maturity. Fruits can be dry or fleshy. Furthermore, fruits can be divided into dehiscent or indehiscent types. Dehiscent fruits, such as peas, readily release their seeds, while indehiscent fruits, like peaches, rely on decay to release their seeds.

Fruit and Seed Dispersal

Some fruits can disperse seeds on their own, while others require assistance from wind, water, or animals.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the ways in which fruits and seeds may be dispersed

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The means by which seeds are dispersed depend on a seed’s structure, composition, and size.
  • Seeds dispersed by water are found in light and buoyant fruits, while those dispersed by wind may have specialized wing-like appendages.
  • Animals can disperse seeds by excreting or burying them; other fruits have structures, such as hooks, that attach themselves to animals’ fur.
  • Humans also play a role as dispersers by moving fruit to new places and discarding the inedible portions containing the seeds.
  • Some seeds have the ability to remain dormant and germinate when favorable conditions arise.

Key Terms

  • seed dormancy: a seed with the ability to delay germination and propagation of the species until suitable conditions are found
  • dispersal: the movement of a few members of a species to a new geographical area, resulting in differentiation of the original group into new varieties or species

Fruit and Seed Dispersal

In addition to protecting the embryo, the fruit plays an important role in seed dispersal. Seeds contained within fruits need to be dispersed far from the mother plant so that they may find favorable and less-competitive conditions in which to germinate and grow.

Some fruits have built-in mechanisms that allow them to disperse by themselves, whereas others require the help of agents such as wind, water, and animals. Modifications in seed structure, composition, and size aid in dispersal. Wind-dispersed fruit are lightweight and may have wing-like appendages that allow them to be carried by the wind. Some have a parachute-like structure to keep them afloat. Some fruits, such as the dandelion, have hairy, weightless structures that are suited to dispersal by wind.

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Wind dispersal: Wind is used as a form of dispersal by lightweight seeds, such as those found on dandelions.

Seeds dispersed by water are contained in light and buoyant fruit, giving them the ability to float. Coconuts are well known for their ability to float on water to reach land where they can germinate. Similarly, willow and silver birches produce lightweight fruit that can float on water.

Animals and birds eat fruits; seeds that are not digested are excreted in their droppings some distance away. Some animals, such as squirrels, bury seed-containing fruits for later use; if the squirrel does not find its stash of fruit, and if conditions are favorable, the seeds germinate. Some fruits have hooks or sticky structures that stick to an animal’s coat and are then transported to another place. Humans also play a major role in dispersing seeds when they carry fruits to new places, throwing away the inedible part that contains the seeds.

All of the above mechanisms allow for seeds to be dispersed through space, much as an animal’s offspring can move to a new location. Seed dormancy allows plants to disperse their progeny through time: something animals cannot do. Dormant seeds can wait months, years, or even decades for the proper conditions for germination and propagation of the species.