The science of Flight of Pollen

Flight of Pollen board game box
Flight of Pollen board game box

When a tree is old enough, it starts to make flowers. The flower is a message from the tree to you, the pollinators.

It’s calling you to come by DAY and by NIGHT – to drink its nectar, to pick up its pollen grains and to transport these to another tree of the same species.

Because it’s ready to breed.

Plants breed like us. The male visits the female, then the baby grows inside of her.

These flowers are both male and female. They could do it alone, but (mostly) they don’t.

They don’t want to repeat the same-old. So he needs to come visit, while she’s in bloom.

They send a message. From a small, one, perfumed flower, TO:
– the short tongued flies and bees
– the long-sucking tongued moths, and
– the introduced honey bee
Come! Drink! Strong, sweet nectar!

You come (weather allowing). You drink the nectar. You pick up male pollen grains – amount depending on your size, hairy-ness and feathery-ness.

Then, when you go to a girl-boy flower of the same species – you drop off to her and pick up from him.

Her gathered pollen grains grow downwards. Over time, seeds and berries ripen at the base of the flower.

Each flower has mixed it up. Many new versions of the self are seeded into the future.


These flowers never repeat the same-old.

There are male plants. There are female plants. It’s a one-way trip from him to her.

Male and female whaupaku send a message in bunches of small, open, perfumed flowers, TO:
– the flying insects
– gecko (who walks), and
– the long-tongued bumble bee (introduced for crop pollination)
Come! Lick! Strong, sweet nectar! Lick me like a lollipop!

The other males use the wind.

Wind picks up seeds – with wings, or feathers, or which and tiny and light – and drops them far far away.

And wind picks up pollen too, moving it along. Miro and karamu make huge amounts!

The female positions herself down wind and catches the pollen grains from the air!

It’s a very ancient way. And in this country, with strong westerly winds, it works!


Large colourful, tube flowers send a message, TO:
– anyone who can get themselves or their tongue deep down inside
Come! Perch! Drink! Heaps of runny nectar!

Tui and korimako/bellbird come. Their bills are curved to fit, their tongues are brush-tipped to mop up the nectar. It’s a match made on earth!

Others come too. Pollen sticks to faces and bird-beaks, to furry bat-bodies, and to gecko’s skin and throat.

Now bright berries send a message, in their size and in the number of seeds inside, TO:
– birds, who can swallow them whole, and
– nibblers with teeth (gecko, bat), who can swallow small seeds
Come! Dine!

Inside the berry eater, the berry travels. Passing … down the gut. There fruit pulp is digested. There the covering of the seed coat is scoured – giving it a better chance of beginning … and through, out the other end!

A seed drops onto the forest floor surrounded by poop. Rich beginnings!


Most long-lived plants don’t repeat the same-old.

So rata and rewarewa send messages, in red, sturdy, brush flowers, TO:
– birds, and
– all others (except those who like light, pale colours)
Come! Perch! Tip and drink! Heaps of runny nectar!

While ngaio’s landing stripes, send a message, TO:
– everyone
Come! Each petal is your guide!

Plants choose a path to the future, making either many small seeds or a few large seeds.

Rata makes many small seeds, which the wind blows all over. A few of these should land in a good place to sprout straight away.

Miro makes a big seed inside each berry. The dropped seed can wait four years (until the time is right) to sprout! But it takes a lot of time and energy to make – nearly 18 months inside of her!

Each plant goes to all this effort so that somewhere, someday, a new one will grow. Grow up and replace the old.