Sexuality in the Garden: Insects, Nature’s Pimps

Nowadays, sex is easy to come by. A meal bought, a bottle of wine consumed and hot botanist later, you’ll find yourself blissfully falling asleep and satiated. (You can go here, here or here.) But for most plant life, sex is a bit trickier. Imagine being firmly rooted, seeing a potential mate, feeling the urge and not being able to reach out and say, “Hey, are you from Tennessee? Cause your the only ten I see!”.

Devastating, right?

Take for instance a simple Coconut Palm tree (Cocos nucifera), a tree that can grow on a beach, drop it’s fruit, ultimately getting swept away by the tides, and redeposited on another beach thousands of miles away. This coconut (not a botanical nut at all, but a fruit) can germinate and grow on a beach, so far from it’s species with only a washed up bottle of  rum, and the soft, distant melody of steel drums to keep it company.

With such a divide, it’s amazing how these trees pollinate and reproduce. Even self pollinators need some help (by wind, insects, etc.) with getting off, so to speak. However, Nature has that covered by introducing pollinators. Insects such as, honey bees, wasps, moths, flies and beetles – eat and mate within flowers, collecting pollen on their bodies, and transferring that pollen to other plants. Arguably, these pollinators act as the most successful Pimps, in the history of “Pimpdom“. Not only are the plants getting what they need – hot, nasty, throw-me-down pollination – but the insects are benefiting immensely as well. In the form of money – one might conclude. A safe place to hide in, eat from, and mate among is damn fine payment for a little exchange of plant jiz.

Although it may seem like the insect is doing all the “dirty” work, some flowers can aid the pimping process along, quite ingeniously. Take, for instance, the Yucca flaccida plant, which has evolved to attract the Tegeticula yuccasella moth. The yucca provides food for the moth’s larvae, and in exchange, the female moths pollinate. First gathering up to a dozen pollinia within the yucca flower and forming them into a golden mass with her prehensile palpi. When ready, she crawls into the flower and positions herself in such a way that her egg deposit into the flowers ovary wall (between the carpels). A single, slender egg is inserted into the flower’s ovule chamber. After laying, she takes the pollinia and draws them back and forth over the stigma, pressing pollen into the central stigmatic depression. This insures pollination of the flower in which she has deposited an egg. Germinating pollen grains send up to hundreds of sperm-bearing pollen tubes into the ovary, resulting in the fertilization of hundreds of ovules (immature seeds) inside, some of which provide food for the hungry moth larva. Sex had. Moth paid. Transaction completed.

In conclusion, in the words of the late, great Notorious B.I.G., “Pimpin’ ain’t easy, but it sure is fun!”.


A few of the BAPP’s crew have come together for a united post! For more fantastic plant/sex posts, check out – Derek‘s, Katie‘s and Rob‘s.

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