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Finding Pollen

In this activity, students explore how pollinators transfer pollen from plant to plant using homemade “bees”.

Pollination describes the transfer of pollen from the stamen of a flower to the stigma of a flower. Once pollen lands on the stigma, it travels and fertilizes the flower’s ovaries, allowing for seeds to develop.

Pollination is a mutually beneficial process between plants and animals. A pollinator comes to a flower in search of nectar to eat, and when the pollinator lands on a flower, pollen is transferred to their body. For example, as bumblebees buzz on a flower, they shake off pollen onto their bodies!

Bumblebees move from flower to flower and continually transferring old pollen onto a new flower, and pick up new pollen, as they search for a nectar meal. A pollinator benefits by getting food, and a flower benefits by getting new pollen to fertilize their ovaries and form seeds.

When pollinators move pollen from one plant to another it is called cross-pollination. Many plants rely on cross-pollination to develop seeds; without pollinators, some plants would be unable to reproduce and soon go extinct!

Note: It is best to do this activity in the Spring or Summer when flowers are blooming and pollen is easily accessible. Alternatively, you can use store-bought flowers, but use local varieties when possible.

Objectives

  • Describe the importance of pollinators in nature.

  • Describe, in general terms, how pollination works.

Materials

  • Per Student:
    1 cotton swab (Q-tip), cut in half
    1 magnifying glass (optional)

  • Per Class:
    yellow markers
    black markers
    cut or growing flowers

Key Questions

  • What is pollen, where does it come from, and what does it look like?
  • Is it easy or difficult for pollen to be knocked off of a flower?
  • Are any parts of the flower sticky? Why?
  • Does the pollen from every flower look the same?
  • Do all flowers seem to have the same amount of pollen?
  • How does the shape of a flower affect how easily a pollinator can access the pollen?
  • How would the buzzing of a bumblebee help spread pollen?

What To Do

  1. Colour the end of the cotton swab yellow.
  2. Use a black marker to make a bee pattern over the yellow tip.
  3. Go outside to look for flowers (or provide flowers to use inside the classroom).
  4. When you find a flower, put the bee in the flower to reach the nectar in the bottom. See if you accidentally pick up any pollen.

Optional

  1. Look at the pollen you gathered under a magnifying glass or microscope.

Extensions

  • Look at the pollen under a magnifying glass or a microscope. Can you see any differences between the pollen of different flowers?
  • Create a skit to show how cross-pollination occurs. Take on the role of pollen, flowers, and bees to act out how pollen is transferred from one flower onto the pollinator, and then onto another flower.
  • Discuss what the world would look like without pollinators.

Other Resources

Pollinator Resources

Bumble Bee Watch

Xerces Society | Pollinator Conservation Resources