Flower power: Floral and resource manipulations reveal how and why reproductive trade‐offs occur for lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)
In the cultivated cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), reproductive stems produce 1-3 fruit even though they usually have 5-7 flowers in the spring. We undertook experiments to test the hypothesis that this was an adaptive life history strategy associated with reproductive effort rather than simply the result of insufficient pollination. We compared fruit production on naturally pollinated plants with those that were either manually pollinated or that were caged to exclude insects. Clearly, insects are necessary for the effective pollination of cranberry plants, but hand pollination of all flowers did not result in an increase in fruit number. Most of the upper flowers, which had significantly fewer ovules than did the lower flowers, aborted naturally soon after pollination. However, when the lower flower buds were removed, the upper flowers produced fruit. This suggests that the upper flowers may serve as a backup if the earlier blooming lower ones are lost early in the season. Furthermore, the late-blooming flowers may still contribute to the plant's reproductive success as visiting pollinators remove the pollen, which could serve to sire fruit on other plants. These results are discussed in the context of their possible evolutionary and proximate causes.