What Are the Steps of Sexual Plant Reproduction?

Plants have sex. It's true. While it may only be a vaguely similar process to the sex participated in by humans and animals, plants engage in sexual reproduction quite often. There is a series of steps that plants go through to create offspring. It isn't the most romantic process, but it can be fascinating nonetheless. Learning how plants reproduce sexually can give you a better understanding of the life cycle of the various plants species. The flowering plant is the easiest to understand.

Bumblebee
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Insects are the most common pollinators that make sexual plant reproduction possible.

Pollination

Ladybug on a flower bud
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Pollination occurs as the first step of reproduction.

Pollination is the first required step in sexual plant reproduction. The male portion of the plant produces the pollen—typically in the flower. A long filament, called a stamen, holds the bits of pollen at the end and one of several pollinators take the pollen to the female part of the flower, called the pistil. Pollinators can be insects or birds drawn to the plant by the colorful flowers and fragrance for the nectar inside. As they enjoy the plant, the pollen sticks to their bodies and is carried away to another flower that may contain the pistil. The wind can also carry pollen to other flowers, as can water in some species. Some plants have male and female parts on the same flower and can self-pollinate. In any event, pollination requires the movement from the stamen to the pistil so reproduction can continue.

Fertilization

Close up of a purple flower
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Fertilization of pollen.

Fertilization happens when the pollen arrives at the female part of the plant. The pistil comprises the stigma, style, ovary and ovule. The pollen travels down the style to the ovary on the female plant where the ovules begin to grow as a result of fertilization. The flower eventually withers and the ovary begins to grow larger and form a fruit. This may be an actual fruit, nut or berry depending on the plant. The fruit grows and develops seeds inside that are protected by the flesh of the fruit.

Seed Dispersal

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Seed dispersal.

The seeds inside the fruit of a plant must be redistributed to make new plants. In nature this often happens when the fruit ripens and falls off the plant onto the ground. The flesh of the fruit rots and exposes the seed inside, which is fertilized by the organic material from the rotten fruit. In other instances, the seed dispersal happens when animals brush against certain plants and get the seeds stuck in their fur and transport it to another spot where it falls off. This is common with plants that have a bur type fruit. Wind, rain and other natural elements may combine to move the seed to a new place.

Germination

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Germination.

Germination is the actual birth of the new plant. Once the seed has emerged from its fruit, it will hopefully be in the proper environment to induce a sprout. The process of sprouting into a new plant is germination. This is the final stage of sexual plant reproduction. The new plant grows and forms its own male and female parts and starts the life cycle all over again.