2. How are fruits produced?

Flowering plants produce fruits, and fruits are the result of pollination. How are the flowers pollinated? How the environment helps or impacts pollination? What are fruits?

Topic introduction
1. What are flowering plants?
3. What fruits are we eating?

We have seen in Chapter 1 how a flower looked like. The fruit is made after the pollination of the flower and the fertilization of the ovule. The fruit originated from the ovary, while the fertilized ovules will become the seeds. Let’s see it in more detail.


Double fertilization

Pollination and fertilization

Once the pollen grain lands on the stigma and is compatible with the flower, it will germinate. A pollen tube is formed. It carries the sperm nuclei to the egg cell in the ovule. The pollen tube grows through the style, then in the ovary, and is attracted to the ovule. There is always only one pollen tube for one ovule. Some flowers have only one ovule, like stone fruit (apricot, peach, plum, …). Some others have multiple ovules in the ovary, like apples, pears, paprika, maize, wheat. The number of ovules in the ovary will determine the number of seeds produced by the fruit.

The journey of the pollen tube from the stigma to the egg cell.

Once there, one sperm nucleus fertilizes the egg cell giving rise to the zygote and the embryo, later developing into a new plantlet when the seed germinates. The second sperm nucleus fertilizes the central cell developing into the endosperm, a triploid tissue. The endosperm is a transient and nutritive tissue that supports the growth of the embryo. It works a bit like the placenta in mammals. In cereals and crops like maize, wheat, rice (they are called monocotyledons), the endosperm is what we eat!

Because there are two fertilizations in flowering plants, we speak of double fertilization.

Coloring game

Find the embryos!

Save it, print it and color it!


Seed development

After the fertilization, the embryo is developing into the seed (fertilized ovule). And the ovary is growing into a fruit.
Inside the seed, the embryo and the endosperm grow and develop.

The embryo takes the shape of the future plantlet. There are different structures: the radicle, the epicotyl (embryonic stem), the hypocotyl (junction between the root and shoot). It also has one or two embryonic leaves, called cotyledons, that will store the energy that will be necessary during seed germination.

Arabidopsis thaliana (thale cress) seed and embryo (drawing on the left and microscopic picture on the right)

Plants with embryos developing one cotyledon are monocotyledons or monocots. Those are grass and grass-like flowering plants. It also includes cereal grains and crops like rice, maize, wheat, onions, garlic. When the seed is germinating, only one leaf will appear.

Plants with embryos developing two cotyledons are dicotyledons or dicots. Those are flowering plants like tomatoes, paprika, peas, beans, avocados, sunflowers, and many others, including the Magnolids. When the seed is germinating, two leaves will appear.

Monocot and dicot seeds

The endosperm surrounds the embryo, mediating the transfer of nutrients between the mother plant and the embryo. In some species like the Fabaceae, the endosperm will disappear, absorbed by the embryo. In these species, the cotyledons serve a storage tissue. In other species, like the monocots and the Poaceae, the endosperm persists when the seed matures. The endosperm is the storage tissue (fat, starch…). In cereal grains like wheat and rice, the endosperm is used for food and transformed into flour.

 Experiment

Compare moncots and dicots

Germinate seeds from the two categories and compare the germinating seedlings

Take a few seeds from dry pea, bean or lentil, maize that you can find in the supermarket or the gardening shop. Put them in a small container or a plate on a humid cotton pad or paper tissue. This will need to be kept wet. Wait for a few days and observe.

Germinating experiment

Find out more: For more experimentation and observations, look here.

Fruit development

The ovary, which contains the developing seeds, will grow into a fruit. The other parts of the flower (sepals, petals, stigma, style, stamens) die after the fertilization of the ovule. The fruit contains threes structures: the exocarp (outer layer), the mesocarp (fleshy part), and the endocarp (the innermost layer). The fruit wall is called the pericarp.

Here are four types of fruits from the Rosaceae family and their corresponding fruits

Drupe

In peach, a drupe fruit, the ovary wall develops into the fruit flesh with a stone derived from the innermost layer (endocarp) of the ovary wall. Inside the stone is a seed. The hypanthium, a cup-like base resulting from the fusion of the lower half of the sepals, petals (and sometimes stamens), does not become part of the fruit (look at the pome fruit for a contrasting example).

Pome

In apple, a pome fruit, the fruit flesh is derived from the fusion between the hypanthium and the ovary, which contains five carpels that fuse to form a central core.

Drupetum

In raspberry, of the drupetum fruit type, the receptacle (raised stem tip) of the flower is connected to the base of numerous carpels (apocarpous gynoecium) with long styles. Each carpel (enlarged and in green), upon fertilization, develops into a fleshy drupe-like fruit (enlarged and in red), termed a drupelet. A drupelet is like a mini-peach with a fleshy ovary wall and a stone encasing a seed inside. The receptacle subtending these drupelets is not fleshy.

Achenetum

In strawberry, of the achenetum fruit type, the receptacle becomes fleshy while its numerous carpels develop into dry achenes. Each achene contains a seed surrounded by a thin and nonfleshy ovary wall.

There are many types of fruits, different in size, shape, color, toughness, thickness. The structure of the fruit is connected to the method of seed dispersal. The purpose of the fruit is to protect and nourish the seed during its development and enable their dispersal after maturity.

Find out more: Hidden seeds, exotic fruits.

Let’s discover the secrets of the Nature (in Czech)​

Seed dispersal

After the seed is finally develop, there is a mechanism to help disperse the fruit and seeds away from the plant. Remember, the plants are fixed in the soil. They cannot move. So to avoid competition between the mother plant and the new daughter plants, the seeds are dispersed away. This is also to colonize new aeras. Seed dispersal can use an external carrier to transport away the seeds. This can be an animal, a bird, insects like ants.

Seed dispersal by animals

An ant moving a seed

A bird with a seed

Like for the pollinators, edible fruits evolved to attract animals to eat them. Once the fruits eaten, the undamaged seeds go through the animal’s digestive system and are dispersed away from the mother plant. Other seeds have developed structures such as hooks or burs, get tangled in the fur or feathers of animals and carried away to new places.

Seed dispersal by wind

Swan plant seed dispersed by wind

Dandelions

The plants using wind for dispersal are light and small, like maple tree fruit, dandelion or milkweed. They developed structures like wing or plumes to let the seeds stay in the air the longest possible and travel farther.

Seed dispersal by water

Lotus seed pod

Some plants use water for seed dispersal. Their fruits are of low density (so they float) and have hydrophobic surface.

Explosing seed dispersal

Some fruits are explosive and disperse their seeds ballistically. This is the case in the family of beans, peas or witch hazel seeds.

Remember, seed dispersal is also adapted to the environment where the plants is growing. Dandelion is more likely to disperse its seeds in open space like meadows, while oak trees are more likely to dispers their acorns in forests.

 Seed dispersal - The great escape

Find out more: From flower pollination to seed dispersal

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