Science: Lay That Pistil Down

The romance between bees and flowers is not always gentle. Alfalfa flowers, for instance, can be brutal. Last week Dr. Ephraim Hixson of the University of Nebraska was trying to make alfalfa flowers kinder to bees. His object, of course, was more alfalfa seed.

The pistil of an alfalfa flower is a strong spring held in tension by two "keel petals." When the bee alights on the petals, the pistil snaps up and out. This process ensures cross-fertilization by showering the bee with pollen and spanking other pollen loose from the bee's body.

But often the flower plays too rough, and the snap...

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