Now that I actually have a garden and the sun is shining I’ve gone a bit garden mad and started trying to grow whatever I can.
Historically this hasn’t had good results; some people have a green thumb, I’ve always joked that mine is black. Most plants I’ve tried to raise have died. Even the super low-maintenance ones marketed to students. I somehow managed to kill a cactus, goddammit. I didn’t even know that was possible.
But, miraculously, the plants I have sown are surprisingly sprouting this time round and I’ve found myself enthused by the wonderful world of horticulture. Which, invariably, means I’ve also been looking in to plant sex too.
‘But wait Emmeline,’ you might be thinking, ‘I’ve attended school, I know that plants don’t have ‘sex’.’ And, strictly speaking, you’d be right…mostly. Plant ‘sex’ isn’t exactly what we’d term as sex but if ‘sex’ and ‘reproduction’ can be synonymous then plants certainly do get it on, albeit usually with nature acting as its wing man.
Relying on pollination, plants typically let flowers blossom (which act as sexual organs of sort) and then hope that wind, animals, or water will carry the pollen that these flowers make to another plant’s ‘female’ reproductive organ (the stigma). From there the fertilisation process happens and life starts anew.
That’s the jist of it, but there are actually some really quirky and bizarre plant sex facts out there when you start looking. Don’t believe me? Let’s explore a few together.
This one is a fact you may have already picked up on, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg too. Since flowers are essentially the genitals of plants, whenever you pluck a flower you’re basically plucking a plant’s genitals for the sheer beauty of it. When you gift it to someone you’re essentially presenting them with plant sex organs. How wonderfully sex positive when you think about it.
Speaking of flowers, the Victorians had a wonderfully complex system of meanings and symbolism when it came to flowers, a lot of which was linked to courtship. According to this Floriography, Acacia was indicative of secret love, Daisies represented a loyal and innocent love, and Burdock meant ‘Touch me not’.
Great to know that the Victorians had the flower equivalent of ‘No means no’.
Although the term is meant to represent literal sex, many flowers are bisexual (possessing both male and female parts), though not all of them are.
Some plants have male flowers and female flowers, and some even have male, female, and bisexual plants at the same time (plant orgy!)
According to scientists, plants with bisexual flowers also produce more seeds, giving them a evolutionary advantage.
How’s that for bisexual pride?
Although we’ve dedicated a lot of time to flowering plants in this article, not all plants will reproduce using the flowering method mentioned above.
Perhaps one of the quirkiest examples is the Ginko tree, which have male plants and female plants and engage in sex via the male releasing spores which then hatch in to sperm and swim in to the eggs of a female plant’s ovum.
Plants with separate male and female variations are known as dioecious and count nettle, red campion, and holly among their ranks. This has created some very interesting situations before, where only one sex of a plant species has been imported to a new country only to do…well, not much of anything really.
Sometimes this a good thing—as it stops invasive plant species from spreading before it’s too late—and sometimes it’s just a gardener’s greatest lamentation.
Also, please excuse the horrendous sub-heading. I couldn’t resist the tongue-in-cheek stab at that hashtag.
When it comes to sex, orchids are legitimately amazing.
Orchids have over 25,000 different species which have apparently colonized six different continents over 80 million years. Wowsa!
The way orchids have achieved this is essentially through some really freaky sex (at least by plant standards). One variation of orchid, the Ophrys, actually impersonates the scent, appearance, and even tactile sensation of a female bee in order to get itself pollinated through an act of what is known as ‘sexual deception’. Some even come with tiny mock-wings too add to the display.
Other orchids take on different strategies—some mimicking shelter, and others food, but all are experts at making sure they perfectly replicate the disguise they’re going for. No wonder why some people call them ‘nature’s meta-flowers’ (oh, and they’re easier to care for than you’d think too).
A Corpse By Any Other Name
This one is a plant I learnt about back when I was in single digits, and it’s always fascinated me. I’m talking, of course, about the Titan Arum, also known as the corpse or carrion flower. This absolutely gorgeous specimen only blooms once in a blue moon (and by that I mean years or even decades depending on how much energy it has stored up at any given time).
The blooming of this plant is so erratic and rare that it’s only been viewed a few lucky times but, if you did see it, you certainly wouldn’t be able to mistake it—not only because of its amazing visual appearance but also because of its smell.
Aptly nicknamed the ‘corpse flower’, the Titan Arum has been described as reeking of rotten flesh whenever it blooms. Not ideal for us, but a huge turn on for carrion beetles and similar insects which it uses as pollinators.
This plant is so notorious for its stench that The Simpsons even parodies it at one point. Now that’s a nostalgic tv references.
Aaaand That’s All For Now!
Animal sex may steal most of the documentary attention out there, but plant sex is equally fascinating, if not more so in some cases.
If you have a chance I do recommend you look up plant reproduction if you’re feeling like a dorky sex nerd (like myself).
I can assure you, I’ve only touched on the top soil in this fun little article.