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What Is Pollen? - Definition & Benefits

Instructor: Adrienne Brundage
Pollen is the delivery package for plant sperm, or the plant's male reproductive cell. It moves from the male plant to the female plant through a variety of delivery mechanisms.

Achoo!

You know it's springtime again when you step outside and your sinuses start giving you a headache. Ask any doctor, and he or she will give you a lecture about pollen count, and how important it is to take antihistamines so you can go outside again. What good is pollen, anyway? Why do we have to put up with all this sneezing each year? Well, it turns out pollen is one of the most important things when it comes to plants, and, ultimately, the food we eat.

So, what is pollen?

Pollen is the male reproductive cell of a plant. Each pollen grain contains a sperm cell, which needs to fertilize an egg cell in order to produce seeds. Pollen is produced by the male portion of a flower, those sometimes showy, sometimes smelly blooms we associate with spring.

You see, plants, just like animals and humans, have males and females. Sometimes a single flower with only have male or female parts. Sometimes a single flower will have both male and female parts - they are hermaphrodites. Either way, the male parts produce sperm, while the female parts produce eggs, just like in humans. The delivery system is a little bit different, though. You wouldn't see a male flower trying to get a date at a bar! No, instead, the sperm is packaged in specialized grains that use a variety of ways to get to the female portion of the plant.

Where is pollen produced?

Flowers aren't just for show. They're actually very sophisticated reproductive organs. The petals of a flower attract pollinators, those things that move pollen from the plant to the flower. Inside the flower are a stamen and a carpel. The stamen produces pollen, while a carpel contains an egg.

A flower, with its parts labeled.

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