People don’t think plants are sexy. Even biologists don’t think plants are sexy. In my first year as an undergraduate, an enterprising algal biologist asked us at the start of his lecture series how many of us thought plants were interesting, and was met with a deafening silence. By the end of his teaching block, when he repeated the question every hand in the lecture theatre went up.
But plants are sexy: and their sexual reproductive systems are far more variable than you might think. In school we’re taught that flowers have petals and sepals and carpels and stamens. All very nice and dull.
Typical anatomical drawing from EnchantedLearning.com
But in reality there are lots of other cool versions of flowers. There are plants like Anthurium that use a brightly coloured leaf in place of true petals. And plants that have separate male and female flowers, like Euphorbia – in which the flowers are often so reduced that they consist of barely more than the sexual organs.
In my first couple of weeks as an undergrad, the truly awesome Dr. George McGavin (who you might know from Lost Land of the Jaguar / Volcano) gave me a tour of the Natural History museum. The most memorable part of this was his discussion of invertebrates. Having relayed the (possibly apocryphal) quotation from JBS Haldane that the Creator must have an inordinate fondness for beetles he then went on to say that anything we humans felt we had achieved (specifically in the bedroom) had already been done by invertebrates. “Providing gifts, tying each other up, group sex, sex with the dead… Yeah they got there first.”
There are a few hot spots in popular science that I periodically circle back to, like the MMR vaccine and GM crops. One of them is about science and faith: Can you be a theist and a scientist? Are there scientists who practice religion? Are they any ‘less scientists’ than the rest of the scientific community? Continue reading