What Is Pollen?

What is pollen?

At its most basic, pollen carries cells which enable fertilization of plants, thus enabling the plant to reproduce.

A more detailed definition of pollen:

pollen is a substance produced by the anthers of seed-bearing plants, consisting of numerous fine pollen grains containing male gametes - i.e. germ cells that fuse with other cells during fertilization, which occurs during the plant pollination process
(see below for further information about pollination specifically).

Types of Pollen – Pollen Classification

Broadly, there are two types of pollen: entomophilous and anemophilous pollen.

1. What Is Entomophilous Pollen?

This type of pollen is collected by insects during insect pollination.

Plants are often said to have developed pollination syndromes, which describes the ways in which plants have adapted so that they attract their ideal pollinators in order to maximise the chances that fertilization will take place. Pollination syndromes range from particular flower fragrances (from fresh delicate florals to the stench of rotting flesh!) to nectar provision and flower colours and shapes.

Pollen collected by insects is said to be of high nutritional value, providing much needed protein for those insects, and hence its appeal to insects as a food source.

2. What Is Anemophilous Pollen?

This is the pollen most often associated with pollen allergies. It is carried by wind rather than by insects. Crops which are wind pollinated include the grasses and cereals – and whilst they form a major proportion of the human diet, arguably they form the least interesting, least diverse and possibly least nutritious element, although not without benefit.  Anemophilous pollen is said to be of lower nutritional value than entomophilous pollen.  It is interesting that some propose that taking bee pollen supplements can increase immunity to pollen allergies, although I have not seen any scientific data to support this claim (if you are aware of any, please let me know via the ‘contact me’ page).

Why Do Bees Need Pollen?

Pollen is tremendously important for bees (and other insects).  It is a vital source of protein in the diet of adult bees, but it is also important as a feed for young, developing bees. You can read more about this subject here: Why do bees need nectar and pollen?

What Is Pollen Used For?

Pollen is sometimes collected from flowers for culinary use.  In Italy, fennel pollen is sometimes used for flavouring pesto, for example.   (Bee pollen is also harvested by some amidst what appear to be unsubstantiated claims about the benefits to human health – you can read more about it here).

Scientists and researchers have identified a number of uses for pollen in their investigations.  Pollen has unique structures depending on the plant species. It is these kinds of differences that enable forensic scientists to trace evidence to specific vegetation (field, hedgerow, woodland, for example, and type of plant life within it), and hence particular locations and regions.  

This means, for example, if pollen grains are collected from any objects linked with a crime, scientists will be able to use those pollen grains to help confirm details about that crime, such as the location.

The study of fossilized pollen grains is also useful to archaeologists, enabling them to build a picture of the types of vegetation historically found in a given area.

Go from What Is Pollen? to:

Plant Pollination

Learn more about the process of pollination, and the different types of pollination, such as wind pollination, self pollination, cross pollination and insect pollination.

Pollen Stain Removal
Need to know how to remove a pollen stain? Click here!

Pollen Count Today
Useful information if you have an allergy to pollen. Tips for hayfever sufferers are also included on this page.

Bee Pollination
This is a website about bees, so you’d expect to find a good section specifically about bee pollination!

About Bee Pollen
Once bee pollen has been gathered, bees do something to it, that slightly changes its properties. Some people take bee pollen, believing it has a number of health benefits. Here we look at what bee pollen is, and examine the claims made.

Did You Know?

1 alfalfa leafcutter bee can do the pollination job of 20 honey bees!

Source: US Agricultural Research Service

Read about Leafcutter Bees

Go from What is Pollen? to one of these general links about bees:

About Bees
An introductory page providing lots of links to further information to answer just about all your questions about bees, from How Long Do Bees Live? to How Many Types Of Bees Are There?

Bee Plants
Why not create a bee garden, or click on the link above to see lots of calendarized lists of plants.

Save The Bees
Bees and other pollinators are going through a hard time just now. See these 10 simple tips explaining how you can help save bees.

Bees Quiz
Just for fun, why not see how much you know about bees, by taking a bees quiz?

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