Flower Pistil: Definition & Function

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  • 0:00 Definition of Flower Pistil
  • 0:45 How Does it All Work?
  • 2:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Terry Dunn

Terry has a master's degree in environmental communications and has taught in a variety of settings.

While flowers might look like they are just for show, they are actually important in plant reproduction. One of the most important reproductive elements a flower is the pistil. Here you will learn what a pistil is and what it does.

Definition of Flower Pistil

What if you were hired by a plant to advertise its readiness to reproduce? Since giving it an online dating profile wouldn't really be an option, you might try a more old-school tactic -- dressing it up to make it look nice. But in the plant world, that 'dressing' already exists. It's called a flower, and it houses the important reproductive parts of the plant, including the pistil.

Flower diagram

The pistil is the female part of the flower, and it's actually made up of several parts, usually arranged in the shape of a bottle. The stigma is the flat, sticky top. The stalk that extends below the stigma is called a style. Finally, at the bottom is the ovary, the swollen base where the style attaches. The ovary contains the ovules, which are the immature seeds, waiting to be fertilized.

How Does It All Work?

In order for fertilization to take place, flowers need the male parts as well. Stamens are the structures that hold the pollen. Pollen are the male gametes of a plant (gametes are basically the sperm cells of the plant that are used to fertilize the egg and create a zygote). The pollen then finds its way to the pistil and sticks to it -- the reason the stigma of the pistil is sticky is so the pollen will adhere to it and help fertilize the ovules.

Once the ovules are fertilized, they develop into a fruit. Some fruits are not even recognizable to us, but others, like apples, peaches, oranges, and tomatoes, are quite familiar. And, in each one are the seeds that used to be safely enclosed in the ovary of a flower.

Here's where it can get a bit strange, though. Many flowers have both the male and female parts (stamens and pistil). They are called perfect flowers. If fact, you often see the pistil in the middle, surrounded by a bunch of stamens. But, not all flowers have both parts. Some flowers have only female parts, and some flowers only have male parts. These are imperfect flowers. Often, these flowers are on different plants, but sometimes the two types of flowers are on the same plant. This is where pollinators such as bees and bats are key to spreading the pollen from a male flower to the stigma of a female flower. In some cases, wind does the job.

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