BLOW­ING IN THE WIND

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wild March - CHRIS PACK­HAM’S PACK

Glow­ing with a stir­ring of early spring sun­shine, hazel catkins dance on the breeze and shower sparks of pollen into the sky. At the same mo­ment, two bud-like fe­male flow­ers, their vivid red tufts vis­i­ble in the top-cen­tre of Val­ter Binotto’s award-win­ning im­age, await the ar­rival of this life-gen­er­at­ing golden rain.

Hazel is mo­noe­cious, mean­ing both male and fe­male flow­ers are found on the same plant, al­though pollen must be trans­ferred be­tween dif­fer­ent trees for fer­til­i­sa­tion to take place. The male catkins, or in­flo­res­cences, hang like clus­ters of cata­tonic cater­pil­lars from mid-Fe­bru­ary (or ear­lier in more shel­tered, low­land ar­eas), ap­pear­ing ahead of leaves, so the wind can dis­perse the mil­lions of mi­cro­scopic pollen grains more eas­ily.

Re­cent re­search from the Univer­sity of Life Sciences in Poland sug­gests that early emerg­ing bees also play a role in pol­li­na­tion. While catkins don’t ac­tively at­tract in­sects with nec­tar, their struc­ture al­lows bees to col­lect pollen from them. The crim­son stig­mas may then en­tice bees to land on the fe­male flow­ers and trans­fer pollen in the process. And for the bees, hazel pollen pro­vides an im­por­tant source of en­ergy at a time when there are few avail­able al­ter­na­tives.

GET IN­VOLVED Record the ap­pear­ance of catkins and other signs of spring in the Na­ture’s Cal­en­dar sur­vey http://bit.ly/2j4o2f5

TWO BUD-LIKE, RED FE­MALE FLOW­ERS AWAIT THE AR­RIVAL OF THIS GOLDEN RAIN.

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