Plants Aren’t So Sexy

Flowers in Boxes

Not too long ago, I was shocked to learn that some plants can generate a whole new plant from a piece of themselves — even with just a tiny bit of stem. It’s like growing a baby by chopping off a finger and sticking it in a pot of soil. Well, not exactly and sorry you had to picture a bloody stub.

Some of you probably know all about plant “cuttings” already. Perhaps growing up in apartments most of my life explains why it took me so long to learn about plant sex. The main way plants make babies is sexually, as we humans do. Pollen, which is kind of like the sperm but not exactly, finds its way into a flower’s ovary. If it hits the jackpot, a fruit is born. Seriously, crazy stuff! To be honest, I only learned that flowers turn into fruit a few years ago. Again, blame it on apartment living.

Or, plants reproduce asexually, without the need of partner (I bet some of you are thinking that could be nice). This is the regenerative technique, where plants make babies from their own tissue. They produce exact copies of themselves, or “mini-me’s.”

Why on Earth would a plant do that? I did some reading, and it seems that it can be advantageous in some environments to spit out copies of yourself. While sexual reproduction is essential for creating genetic diversity, and adapting to changing environments, nixing the sexual partners is useful for rapidly making babies in stable environments. You’re really at your best if you can do both.

Just ask the Komodo dragons, those huge lizards on an island in Indonesia. Like other species of lizards, they can make babies from themselves in a process called parthenogenesis. Researchers even theorize that a single female lizard could make a male baby, and then switch back to sexual reproduction and have sex with her male clone. (Remind me later to write a sci-fi movie where a sexy alien does this.)

I also read that there can be entire species of female “whiptail” lizards! It’s a “girls’ night out” party all the time. Sign me up. I’ll bring the wigs.

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