Magazine article Science News

Why More Blooms Aren't on the Rose

Magazine article Science News

Why More Blooms Aren't on the Rose

Article excerpt

We know why some sweethearts show up with only a half dozen roses on Valentine's Day: They're balancing the costs and benefits of going for the full dozen.

Plants take a similar approach. They could produce many more flowers than they do, but the benefits of large bouquets don't outweigh the costs.

Researchers have known for some time how flowers help plants, but the costs have remained less clear. Now, a new study finds that producing more flowers may take a toll on the health of the plants' offspring, report Lawrence D. Harder of the University of Calgary in Alberta and Spencer C.H. Barrett of the University of Toronto.

Flowers benefit plants by attracting pollinators. "For plants, the show is only a means to an end -- the end being mating success," Harder explains.

Hermaphrodites by nature, many plants have the advantage of being able to mate with themselves, in a process called selfing, or with others, called outcrossing. However, the offspring that result from outcrossing generally grow bigger and faster and reproduce more often.

Researchers had thought that selfing does not diminish the frequency of outcrossing, because self-pollination uses such a small portion of the pollen pool, Harder explains.

But Harder and Barrett found that producing more flowers in fact decreases a plant's chances of mating with others by increasing the likelihood of self-pollination, they report in the Feb. 9 Nature. They suspect that the pollen used in selfing would otherwise go for outcrossing. …

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