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Solanaceae: Anthers with pores

In this house, you can see several blossoms from the nightshade family, or Solanaceae. You may recognize this type of flower from tomatoes or potatoes. Unlike many other flowering plants, members of the nightshade family are stingy with their pollen. The flowers hang down, and the firm anthers stand closely together in a cone. Their pollen sacs don’t tear open, but instead have just a tiny opening at the tip.

Bees and bumblebees have specialized in gathering pollen from these flowers. They clamber underneath the flower and vibrate their bodies, giving off their characteristic buzz. The vibration causes pollen to fall out and land on the underside of the insect, from where it can be easily collected. But the insect always misses a few grains of pollen, which stick to its hairs. That pollen is then carried along to the next flower, ensuring the fertilization and reproduction of the nightshades.

What advantage does this more complicated mechanism give the nightshades over other flowering plants? In most such plants, pollen spreads when the pollen sacks tear open. In an open flower, like that of the tulip, the pollen is freely accessible to any insect, specialized or not. That means that most of the pollen will never make it to its target, the stigma of the next flower of the same species. To compensate for this, the plant has to produce more pollen.

Audio file download
Solanaceae: Anthers with pores (MP3, 682 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Günter Gerlach, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg

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