Briefly pollination can be defined as the transfer of pollen from anther of a male plant to the stigma, ovule or flower of a female plant of the same species. This pollen then fertilizes the plant. Only fertilized plants can make fruit and/or seeds, and without them, the plants cannot reproduce.
Flowering plants are either monoecious or dioecious. Monoecious plants are plants which either carry both male and female flowers on a single plant or have flowers that carry both male and female reproductive parts (bisexual / hermaphrodite) while dioecious plants are plants in which the male and female flowers occur on separate specimens. Some species of monoecious plants are able to self-pollinate e.g. tomatoes and beans however in most instances pollination is due to zoophily whereby pollen is transferred by animals e.g. insects, rodents and birds.
The distribution of pollen by the wind is known as Anemophily and the flowers of plants pollinated by wind are often less showy. Hydrophily is a rather rare type of pollination during which pollen is transferred between plants by means of water. It occurs mainly in aquatic plants. Zoophily is possibly the most well known type of pollination which takes place by means of animals. Many flowering plants are pollinated by birds (ornithophily) as well as bees and butterflies (entomophily) however there are many other animal species responsible for pollination. Bats, mice, lizards, mongooses, and baboons are only a few zoophilic pollinators.
There are numerous reasons why pollination is important for all life on earth. Approx. 78% of flowering and fruit bearing plant species depend on pollination to reproduce and develop fruits and seeds. Pollination ensure a healthy ecosystem that comprises of a variety of plant species which in turn serve as food and shelter for numerous animal species.
Pollination is also essential for the production of many food crops and without it we will not have many of our favourite fruit and veggies including avocados, berries, coconuts, bananas, melons, nuts, beans, watermelon, onions, tomatoes, pumpkin as well as tea plants, coffee, chocolate and tequila!!
Pollination can be either diurnal (during the day), crepuscular (dusk or dawn) or nocturnal (between dusk and dawn). Many of the flowers pollinated between dusk and dawn have white petals and/or are sweet smelling in order to entice and guide the pollinators towards them. Nocturnal pollinators include porcupines, beetles, moths and of course bats. Many of these night time critters are more active at dawn or dusk rather than in the dead of the night. Bats however, are mainly active at night and play a critical role in plant diversity. Pollination done by bats is called chiropterophily. Many fruits are dependent on bats for pollination, such as mangoes, bananas, and guavas and they play an important role in controlling insects.
Rodents also play an important role in the pollination of a number of fynbos species especially the protea family. Striped mouse, Cape spiny mouse and Vleirat play an important role in the pollination of several flowering plants including low growing leucospermum e.g. Leucospermum hypophyllacarpodendron and various proteas e.g. the sugarbush. Pollen is transferred from plant to plant when it sticks to their fur and whiskers when the feed on the sweet nectar.