Tips & Tricks

How Do Plants Reproduce?

The day has finally come. It’s time to sit you down on the edge of your bunk bed and talk about the birds and the bees... Or, in this case, the ferns and the trees. You may be curious about plant reproduction for a variety of reasons. 

Maybe you’ve just begun to develop a green thumb. Perhaps you’re here for a school science project. It could be that you’re stranded on Mars, trying to grow potatoes to survive long enough to be rescued. 

The question “How do plants reproduce?” is an important one, essential to understanding life on Earth. Reproduction happens in many different ways. In this article, we’ll break it down. 

Oh, and regarding those potatoes... Despite what Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head would have you believe, potatoes mainly reproduce asexually. No wonder they seem to be missing certain appendages.

What Is Propagation? 

Often, when gardeners refer to propagation, they’re referring to how we humans can duplicate plants and grow our gardens. A bit like the breeding of animals. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that. But, the word itself has a much broader definition.

Propagation, quite simply, is the process of creating new plants. Not to be confused with proposition (verb), which is when someone makes a suggestion of sex. We suppose if plants could talk, they would proposition propagation. 

Propagation can be achieved in many different ways, but it can be broken down into two categories: sexual propagation and asexual propagation. Many plants are able to propagate both sexually or asexually, such as Pele the Philodendron.

Sexual Propagation

Sexual propagation is when plants reproduce using seeds or spores. Unlike asexual reproduction, sexual reproduction often requires more than one plant, as male and female genetic material is combined to create offspring with new DNA.

Here is a quick step-by-step guide to plant sex!

Step 1: Fall In Love

Just kidding.

  • Step 1: Pollination: Pollination is when pollen is transferred from a male anther of a plant to a female stigma in order to make a seed. This pollen is often transported by animals, such as birds and insects, who inadvertently transfer pollen while feeding on a plant’s nectar. We call these animals pollinators.
  • Step 2: Fertilization: After pollen lands on the stigma, it travels down the style, which connects to the plant’s ovary. In the ovary, sperm cells in the pollen fuse with the egg, creating an embryo, which is then surrounded by a shell, thus creating a seed.
  • Step 3: Distribution and Germination: Once a seed is developed, it is held in fruit, nut, or other material. Seeds are then dispersed naturally by wind, rain, animals, or even humans. If the seed finds itself in ideal conditions to grow, then germination happens, and a plant grows!

If you want to try a little distribution and germination yourself, check out our Gourmet Gardening Seed Kit.

Benefits of Sexual Propagation 

In nature, there are a few benefits of sexual propagation over asexual propagation. The most important one is that it allows for adaptation through natural selection. If we propagate a plant asexually, that offspring will have the exact same DNA as its parent, and no evolution will take place.

We’ll put it in human terms: if you were cloned, the clone would be exactly like you. But if you reproduce sexually, there’s a chance your child may actually be smart. Get it? Didn’t think so!

Asexual Propagation 

Asexual propagation (also known as vegetative propagation) is reproduction without a seed. Instead, a portion of the vegetation of the original plant is used to create a whole new organism. In human terms, it would be like if you cut your arm off, and a whole new genetically-identical person grew from it. Sounds kinda cool, actually. 

Asexual reproduction can happen naturally (through stems, roots, bulbs, etc), or caretakers can propagate plants themselves using a few different methods.

How To Propagate Your Plant 

There are a few different ways to propagate your plant.

  • Cutting: Cutting is the most popular way for gardeners to propagate their plants. Simply cut off a portion of the plant’s leaf, stem, or root, then replant it and watch it grow. You can test this method out on Clyde, our Epipremnum aureum. Grow three more and name them Inky, Blinky, and Pinky!
  • Division: Division is a simple, yet less common method of propagation. It’s exactly what you’d imagine it is: dividing a plant into two or more parts—each part with its own roots, stem, and leaves. To do this, you have to remove the plant from its pop, and then carefully separate the plant at the roots. 

Perennials should be divided every few years to keep them strong and healthy.

  • Layering: Layering is a little more complicated method of propagation. With layering, a new plant is formed while still attached to the original. There are many different methods of layering, like simple, compound, air, and tip. Layering can take up less space, and be more efficient than cutting or division. 
  • Grafting: Grafting is when parts from different plants are joined together to grow as one new plant. Think Sid’s creations from Toy Story, minus the horror. Grafting is often used when a plant does not respond well to other methods of asexual propagation. Other reasons for grafting are repairing damaged plants, changing a plant’s root system, and grafting male plants to female plants to ensure pollination. 

Be a Grower and a Show-er 

Now that you’ve learned all about plant reproduction, you’ll be able to take propagation into your own hands and grow the garden of your dreams. Then, proudly show off your creation.

 

Sources:

Could we grow potatoes on Mars? | University of Warwick

Potato Propagation | North Dakota State University

Plant Propagation - Cooperative Extension: Garden & Yard | The University of Maine

What is Pollination? | United States Department of Agriculture

Layering Propagation for the Home Gardener | Oklahoma State University

Basic Grafting Techniques | Mississippi State University Extension Service