Getting to grips with plant science and their importance to our ecosystem

In celebration of British Science Week, we’re going to tell you all about plants, their structure, the process of photosynthesis and how bees and insects play a massive part in pollination and growing our food.

We’ve also written a children’s guide to growing fruit and vegetables, so take a look and get planting!

The anatomy of a plant

Plants have a basic structure which includes the flower, leaf, stem and roots. Leaves, stems and roots are the organs of the plant which consist of different types of tissues.

Leaf

The leaf is an organ of the plant which is designed for photosynthesis. Leaves collect carbon dioxide from the air and energy from the sun. They tend to be flat and thin to ensure they catch as much sunlight as possible. Despite this, leaves come in many different shapes and sizes. The leaf of a plant has a blade, midrib and a vein.

The blade is the flat part of the leaf, it has many green food-making cells and helps to support the plant.

Veins carry food and water in the leaf and they collect the food made by the green cells.

The Midrib is the large central vein which extends from the base of the blade to its tip. Its job is to provide support to the leaf.

Stem

The stem is the main structure that supports leaves and flowers. Stems have vascular tissues that move food and water around the plant to help it grow. They are also used as a place to store food.

Roots

Roots grow underground and gather water and minerals from the soil. More importantly, they keep the plant from falling over. There are two major types of roots, fibrous roots and taproots. Taprootshave one major root that grows very deep into the ground, while fibrous roots have many roots that grow in all directions.

Flower

The primary purpose of a flower is reproduction. The petals of the flower are designed to attract insects and bees, so that pollen can be transferred to other flowers. This is called pollination.

What is Photosynthesis?

Photosynthesis is a chemical reaction that takes place inside of the plant to produce food for the plant to survive.  Plants need food to respire, grow and reproduce and Photosynthesis allows them to make their own food.

Photosynthesis takes place in a plant cell containing chloroplasts, these are small structures that contain chlorophyll (the pigment that gives plants their green colour).  For the process to take place, plants need carbon dioxide from the air, water from the ground and light from the sun.

Carbon dioxide enters through the bottom of the leaf, water is absorbed by the roots and sunlight provides the energy needed for photosynthesis to take place. The carbon dioxide and water are converted into oxygen (which is released back into the air) and glucose (food for the plant).

Photosynthesis is very important for plants because, without it, they wouldn’t be able to make the food they need to survive. Plants are also the main source of oxygen in the atmosphere, so without photosynthesis, all living things would die.

Why bees are so important

Bees are wonderful creatures that dart from flower to flower, poking their heads into petals to find nectar and pollen. The bees then help the flowers by spreading their pollen in a process called pollination.

Pollination

Pollination is needed for plants to reproduce and many plants, fruits and vegetables depend on bees and other insects as pollinators. When a bee collects nectar and pollen from a flower, some pollen from the stamen (the male reproductive organ) sticks to the hairs of the bee. When the bee visits the next flower, some of the pollen is rubbed off onto the stigma (the female reproductive organ). When this happens, fertilisation is possible and the plant carrying seeds, can develop.

Fertilising our crops

Bees are the main pollinators for a lot of plants, fruits and vegetables, fertilising as they carry pollen and seeds from plant to plant. They will be the workers, helping you grow your own fruit and vegetables with our useful guide.

Many of the world’s food crops depend on insect pollination, as pollinators are essential for growing many different fruits, nuts and berries. There are around 70 crops in the UK that depend or benefit from bee pollination. Examples of bee-pollinated crops include watermelons, citrus fruits, apples, cucumbers, most berry crops, broccoli, nuts and more.

It is estimated that one-third of food is dependent on the pollination of bees. They contribute £400 million to the economy and make 6,000 tonnes of honey. Bees used to do 70% of the pollination in the UK but now they are only capable of supplying 34% of our pollination needs.

The number of bees is quickly declining due to climate change, the use of pesticides and varroa mite.

So, what happens if the number of bees continues to decline?

  • Farmers will have to manually pollinate their crops which will cost billions of pounds a year.
  • We may lose all the plants that bees pollinate.
  • The animals that eat those plants will have no food and so on up the food chain.
  • Our supermarkets would have half the amount of fruit and vegetables meaning we would struggle to sustain the global human population of 7 billion.

Plants are our main source of oxygen in the atmosphere and are really important for the planet. Living things need plants to breathe, to eat, to use in medicine and use them to live in. Without plants, there would be no food.

Everything we eat, including meat from animals, is a result of plants and photosynthesis. Bees are just as important to living things, they are the main reason we have plants to create oxygen, crops to grow food and honey to put on our cereal. Without them, farmers would lose billions of pounds, food resources would cut in half and plants would die.

So, let’s help our plants by helping our bees! Plant a variety of bee-friendly plants so they can thrive throughout the seasons and avoid using pesticides.

Why not get your children involved by starting a vegetable garden using our guide or plant some herbs? Create fun activities to get them excited, how many bees have visited the plants in your garden? Can they count them? Can they see and name the different parts of the plant?

Upload pictures of your vegetable garden on social media and tag us so we can see!