While minute in size, pollen grains are produced in high enough volumes by plants to form an important food source for lots of invertebrates.
Pollen is a powder, produced by the male components of the flower, that triggers the production of seeds by the female components of the same type of flower. Each pollen grain is made up of an outer wall, within which are a non-reproductive cell and a reproductive cell, responsible for producing the pollen tube and the sperm cells required for fertilisation, respectively – enabling reproduction.
Most gardeners will be familiar with the pollen-collecting behaviour of bees, which both the adults and developing brood consume as a source of protein. It's not just bees that consume pollen, though – ladybirds, hoverflies and spiders are some of the many invertebrates known to consume pollen for the proteins, carbohydrates and essential amino acids they contain.
Bigger flowers tend to produce higher volumes of pollen, as do flowering trees and shrubs, which have a greater amount of flowers per plant. But do remember to go for plants with single, not double flowers, so the pollen can be released by the plant and accessed by wildlife.
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Check out some of the best plants to grow for pollen, below.
Daffodils have central trumpet-shaped cups that pollinators can dive into. The early pollen and nectar they provide is a valuable food source for pollinators. Watch Monty Don plant wild daffodil bulbs.
With masses of flowers packed together on each flowering stem, lupins are a great source of pollen. While the pollen isn't immediately visible, when bees land on each flower, their weight pushes down the cup-shaped petals to reveal the hook-shaped keel within, which is covered in pollen.
Lying at the centre of each tulip bloom is a rich pollen reward, often in such copious amounts that the petals are dusted with it. Go for single varieties or species tulips, like Tulipa tarda and Tulipa sylvestris.
Apple trees are one of the many flowering trees to grow for pollen. With lots of flowers per plant, there's plenty of pollen to be collected by pollinators or carried on the wind to land in spiders webs, where it can be consumed. Other shrubs and trees to consider include willows, crab apples (such as Malus sylvestris) and quinces.
On top of being cheery flowers to have in the garden, cosmos are also fantastic plants for wildlife, attracting bees, butterflies and hoverflies with the pollen and nectar they provide. Check out these cosmos planting combinations for inspiration.
Rock roses (cistus) are small, evergreen shrubs with large flowering potential. Lots of pollen is held on the end of numerous anthers at the centre of the flowers. They're well-suited to hot, dry spots in the garden and combine well with plants like rosemary and salvias.
Each sunflower flowerhead is made up lots of smaller flowers, each producing pollen and nectar. Some bees have been shown to specialise on collecting pollen from sunflowers due to its anti-parasite qualities.
These towering perennials produce large, showy flowers in summer that are especially popular with bumblebees – they'll often emerge from hollyhock blooms with a thick dusting of pollen. Check these three expert tips on growing hollyhocks.
Pollen grain structures
A close look at the pollen grains of different species will reveal a huge diversity of sizes and structures. Rice (Oryza sativa) has the largest pollen grains known, while forget-me-nots (myosotis) have the smallest.