Plant Pollination

As plants start to flower, let’s look at pollination. While bugs such as bees are known to be great pollinators, they’re far from the only ones. Not all plants even require insects for pollination.

Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma. The anther is the pollen-holding component of a flower while the stigma is the pollen receiving component of a flower. Pollination is an incredibly important element in growing vegetables as it is required for the production of fruits, fruiting vegetables (any vegetable containing seeds), nuts and grains. Without this critical process, we would lose access to most of our food supply.

So, now that you know its importance, how does it occur? The primary methods include:

Using animals – this usually involves insects such as bees. The pollen is held in flowers that often have nectar to attract insects. The insects will inadvertently transfer the pollen as they go from flower to flower. Generally, any plant with showy flowers that are upward or outward-facing is dependent on insect pollinators.

Using wind – plants will send up pollen spikes (referred to as plumes, tassels, or panicles) and they will have stigmas positioned below to receive the pollen. Wind-pollinated plants are often grasses (e.g., corn, rice, wheat) and they won’t have showy flowers as these have no purpose in a wind pollinating plant.

Using gravity – many vegetables have flowers containing both of the anther and stigma in the same flower. Pollen simply needs to fall from the anther and land on the stigma within the flower. Wind and animals can still help in the process by agitating the flower, causing the pollen to dislodge and drop. These plants are most easily identified by having flowers that point downward, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes.  

As a gardener, you can take steps upfront to help the pollination process:

  • For plants that require insects for pollination, plant native flowers nearby to attract pollinators.
  • For plants that require wind for pollination, plant them away from windbreaks and plant them in patches, rather than in rows, so that they can pollinate regardless of which direction the wind is blowing.
  • For plants that require gravity for pollination, make a habit of brushing against them of lightly tickling the plant with your fingers while they are flowering to dislodge as much of the pollen as possible.