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  • Writer's pictureMelissa

Stamens and Pistils and Pollinators, Oh My!



What do you know about pollinators? When I ask kids this question, they talk enthusiastically about bees and butterflies, about insects eating pollen and drinking nectar, and about pollen sticking to insects. This is all great! In this activity, we will take the concept of pollination a bit further. After all, pollination is a pretty important business when you consider that humans need to eat, and more than 150 of our food crops require the activities of pollinators to produce the seeds, fruits and veggies we consume! For more on why pollination matters, check out this link to the USDA Forest Service website.


Part 1 - playing with flowers


Where do you find the pollen on a plant, and where should that pollen go after it gets stuck to an insect? Let's find out! There are lots of diagrams and coloring pages about flower anatomy online. Here are a few examples you may find helpful.

If you would like to download your own copy of these images or find more information about flower anatomy, you can visit the following websites. Click here for the first image, click here for the second image, and click here for the third image. These types of diagrams can be really useful, but I suggest getting outdoors and looking for your own flower examples to investigate!


I picked a variety of flowers growing in my yard and along the road to investigate, but you can also explore flower anatomy without picking the flowers. If you do want to pick flowers to investigate at home, make sure to check in with your grown-up first.

What do you notice when you look at these flowers? How are they similar? How are they different? Are all the petals the same color? Are they the same size? Are they the same shape? If you were a pollinator looking for some pollen to eat or some nectar to drink, which flower would you visit first? What are some reasons you picked that flower? I bet you were attracted by some of the same things that bees, butterflies and other pollinators are attracted to! Did you choose your flower based on the color of the petals? Or because you liked the way the flower smelled? Maybe the pollen was easy to see, or the petals were a nice texture?

Let's look more closely at the flower parts inside the petals.

The stamens are where the pollen is found, and the pistil is where the seed is made. Can you find a stamen and pistil in each of your flowers? How about in the flower pictures above? You can use the diagrams right under the Part 1 heading to help you with your flower anatomy exploration.


What color is pollen? Most of the time the answer I get when I ask this question is "yellow", and for good reason. Often the pollen is yellow. But not always. Here are examples of purple, white and yellow pollen grains.

Look closely at the stamens from your flowers. Can you find any yellow pollen? What other pollen colors do you see?


Pretend your pointer finger is a pollinator and see if you can rub a bit of pollen off of a stamen. Was it easy or hard to do? Can you see any pollen grains on your finger? If you are the pollinator, where should you rub that pollen stuck to your finger?



On the stigma of a pistil!




Part 2 - playing with "pollen slime"


Supplies:

  • 1/4 cup Elmer's or comparable white or clear glue

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • few drops of food coloring (optional)

  • 1/2 tablespoon contact lens solution containing borate ion


  • stir stick

  • small container for mixing

Instructions:

1) Add 1/4 cup glue, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and a few drops of food coloring to your mixing container.

2) Stir it up!



3) Add 1/2 tablespoon of contact lens solution and stir it up as much as possible.





Here is what the slime looks like with clear glue.

4) Time to explore! Pick up your slime and see how it feels. Is it slippery? Sticky? Does it hold its shape if you squish it into a ball or ooze through your fingers? If you have any plastic insects on hand, this is a great time for some pollinator play time! I like to bring fake flowers into the action for authenticity, but please note that these will likely need to be thrown out afterward. The plastic insects are much easier to wash off.

Just like real pollen, the pollen slime does a great job of sticking to the pretend pollinators and flowers!


5) You can store your slime in tupperware container to play with again.


6) Cleanup: Safe to toss in the trash..


A polymer is a big molecule (macromolecule) made up of smaller molecules connected in a repeating pattern. White glue (polyvinyl acetate) is a polymer made of many vinyl acetate molecules. In a tube of glue, the polyvinyl acetate macromolecules are like slippery strings that easily move past one another. When an ion called borate is added (e.g. from certain contact lens solutions), the individual strands of polyvinyl acetate are linked together. Now the strands of polyvinyl acetate can no longer move freely past one another. This causes the glue to turn from flowing liquid into gloppy slime.


Click below to download a pdf of the Pollinator Slime DIY science kit for easier printing.


Pollen Slime
.pdf
Download PDF • 42KB


Make messes, have fun and spread science joy!

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