Part 3: Growth, Reproduction, and Evolution—Plant Reproduction

Mentioned previously, plants reproduce by two mechanisms: sexual and asexual reproduction. Few plants use only one type of reproduction exclusively. Instead, most plants use a combination of both methods based on the time of year and environmental conditions. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Sexual Reproduction

Sexual reproduction involves flowers, which house the plant’s reproductive organs and are responsible for making the necessary cells and structures for new offspring. Mature plants produce both male and female gametes. Male gametes are called sperm and female gametes are called eggs. In order to produce a new plant, an egg and sperm must combine in a process called fertilization. Sex cells can be transferred within the same plant or to different plants by many mechanisms. Pollination is one method that utilizes insects, water, or wind to transfer pollen grains (a group of gamete cells). When a male gamete and a female gamete come together, they form a two-cell organism called a diploid. Under favorable conditions, this new cell replicates, divides, and eventually forms a seed. Sexual reproduction is advantageous because it permits for genetic variation, but is disadvantageous because it costs the plant a lot of time, energy, and resources. It also decreases the likelihood that a new plant will be produced because so many outside factors (herbivores, environmental conditions, distance between plants, etc.) are capable of influencing the course of reproduction.


Asexual Reproduction

Another way that plants can reproduce is through asexual reproduction, which involves only one parent. The parent’s cells divide and produce offspring that are genetically identical to itself. Essentially, the offspring are “clones” of the parent. There are many different types of asexual reproduction. For example, “suckers” are plants that emerge from the roots of the parent plant. Other plants are capable of producing a new plant when their leaves touch the soil. Asexual reproduction does have many advantages, including quick and easy reproduction even in harsh climates where sexual reproduction may not be possible. Asexual reproduction is disadvantageous because it does not allow for genetic adaptation or evolution in response to the environment.


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