Sunday, August 8, 2010

Floral Erotica

I know, I'm probably failing miserably at coming up with catchy titles. I must admit I had fun with this one, cuz words like that always make ppl just a tad uncomfortable, except for smooth talking men. lol

This was a large section, divided into a few parts. I'll try to keep it simple. This section is about how essential oils play roles in plant reproduction. Most of us know that a pollen exchange is necessary for plants to reproduce. The following information tells us how essential oils help get pollen from one plant to another.

A few plants use the wind to distribute pollen, but not very many.

Most plants use this method to attract cross pollinators (i.e. insects, animals, and humans even). I think it was mentioned before that large essential oil molecules called tetraterpenes can be responsible for the color of a plant. These molecules are not often found in extracted essential oils, cuz they are so large. They normally remain in the plant after it has been distilled for oil. Usually bright colors are from pigments, or light refracting objects rather than essential oils, though. The pigments can be used to dye things, of course, but if the plant has light refracting objects to make its color, you'll end up with a clear goo on your fingers after pinching it. These microscopic light refracting objects (probably different shapes of prism-like structures) absorb the invisible UV rays we're so afraid of, and re-emit them in lower frequencies that are visible to the eye in a brighter-than-the-actual-color way. Brightening laundry soaps do the same thing: they trick our eyes. The colors aren't actually getting brighter, just the shapes of the tiny prisms make them look that way to us.

Many insects (the most common form of cross pollinator) are either color blind or totally blind. So even if a plant uses sight to attract pollinators, it will often employ the other, more common, method of attraction, which is smell. Insects have smelling organs at lots of different places on their bodies. Some even have them on their feet, like the common housefly (which explains why those pesky irritants like to walk all over our picnic food after they've already been standing for hours on doggie doo).

The fragrances put out by plants normally imitate the sex pheromones of different kinds of animals, and usually come from their essential oils. The pheromone molecules waft in the air and the animals are drawn to them for procreation. For example, catnip emits the same lactone pheromone that female cats emit when they're in heat, which is what draws especially male cats to it. The pollen gets on the fur of the cats and travels with them to other plants.

Throughout the day, flowers will put out slightly changed fragrances in order to attract different types of pollinators at different times. Some flowers put out especially strong fragrances at night to attract nocturnal pollinators.

In exchange for these cross pollinators accepting invitations to visit, they receive food and nutrients. A lot of insects feed on pollen and that is their reward for "answering the call". Some plants have hollow tubular structures which store nectar at the bottom. Nectar is basically sugar water, and the plants don't really use it. It's specifically a treat for birds and butterflies or moths, and in return for the food, the animals spread the pollen that sticks to them while they're feeding.

Essential oils are key in this imitation of animal sex hormones to attract cross pollinators, which is why they have been the base of perfumes for millennia. They attract insects and other animals, and they attract us as well.

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