Year of the Pollinator Series – February: Wind

Presenting: Awbury’s 2018 series on pollinators– from wasps to wind! 

Monthly articles will correspond with our programming and our “Pollinators FOUND at Awbury Arboretum” art show and scavenger hunt.

Articles written by La Salle student and Awbury intern Dan Sardaro.

February 2018 –  WIND: 

In these cold, blustery winter months, the wind seems to deter us from stepping foot outside. It bites at our faces and freezes our extremities, blows snow and leaves across our lawn, and acts as one of the best reasons to stay inside with a hot cup of tea and a good book. But while the winter winds may seem frightful, Spring winds usher in an entirely new season of rebirth.

Spring means that winds take on a new role, that role being pollination! While last month’s pollinator came in the form of the honeybee, February’s pollinator is the wind. This essential force of pollination is represented in Karen Singer’s detailed tilework depicting wind gracefully blowing through a willow tree.

Wind tile - of the FOUND exhibit by Karen Singer Tileworks

Wind tile – of the FOUND exhibit by Karen Singer Tileworks

As we all know, plants need help in dispersing their pollen in the hopes that their genes can be passed on to reproduce another species of tree, flower, grass, or other type of plant. An animal or insect often does the job of spreading pollen to another plant, but what happens when there are few organisms to do that job? That’s where wind comes in. Anemophily, the scientific name for wind pollination, occurs mostly in parts of the globe that contain large, concentrated amounts of similar plant species and in areas where fewer animals or insects act as pollinators (Willmer). Parts of the globe farther away from the equator and also high in elevation often rely on wind to spread pollen from one plant species to another, since there just aren’t enough means for pollen to spread otherwise (Snyder). For example, rainforest plants, ones that are supported by an abundance of tropical pollinators and that are surrounded by humid air unfit for pollen, don’t rely on wind, while boreal forest conifer trees, lacking in surrounding pollinators, depend heavily on wind to reproduce.

In the Philadelphia area, many pines, oaks, maples, beeches, and ash trees rely on wind to thrive (Snyder). In the agricultural world, wind pollinates much of the grains that we eat, including wheat, rice, corn, rye, barley, and oats, along with trees we cultivate that produce various kinds of nuts (Wind Pollination (Anemophily).

Now, wind pollination sounds like a great idea on paper – you would think the wind picks up each grain of pollen and delivers it safely to a patiently awaiting tree somewhere across a meadow. That’s not entirely the case. Wind pollination is often a gamble for most trees – wind is sporadic and lacks direction, hence not all pollen reaches another tree to fertilize a flower or cone (Snyder). That’s why most trees produce tons and tons of pollen grains to ensure that at least a select few will hit the small flowery target. The birch tree for example forms catkins, or clusters of flowers that resemble pipe cleaners. One catkin cluster can house up to 10 million grains of pollen (Snyder).

Wind is the unseen force that sustains many of the forests, grasslands, and seashores we visit, while also helping agriculture thrive (Snyder). It’s responsible for the saplings we’ll see in the spring, the oldest trees that give us shade in the summer, and the vibrant foliage we’ll admire in the fall. So while this wintery wind may be a pest now, just wait a few months for wind to bear its fruits of nature.

Sources Used:

Snyder, Michael. “Why Are Some Trees Pollinated by Wind And Some by Insects? | Spring 2009.” Center for Northern Woodlands Education, Center for Northern Woodlands Education, 2009, northernwoodlands.org/articles/article/why_are_some_trees_pollinated_by_wind_and_some_by_insects.

Willmer, Pat. Pollination and Floral Ecology, Princeton University Press, 2011. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://dbproxy.lasalle.edu:5967/lib/lasalle-ebooks/detail.action?docID=793219.

“Wind Pollination (Anemophily).” Wind Pollination, The Canadian Pollination Initiative, Oct. 2012, www.pollinator.ca/bestpractices/wind_pollination.html.