Understanding How Flowers Are Pollinated

Understand more than the basic process by which plants make seeds. It's very helpful for gardeners to learn more about the physiological processes leading to seed production.

| January 19, 2012

  • Attracting bees to your garden will improve pollination of many types of plants, but sometimes you'll need to protect certain plants from accidental cross-pollination by bees or other insects.
    Photo by Adobe Stock/brunogm
  • "The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds" by Robert Gough & Cheryl Moore-Gough.
    Photo courtesy Storey Publishing

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds(c) by Robert Gough & Cheryl Moore-Gough, with permission from Storey Publishing. The following excerpt can be found on Pages 11, 19, 20, 21 and 22.  

Saving seeds is a fascinating and delightful pastime. Seeds are sometimes the “poor stepchild” in the garden, overlooked by gardeners in their pursuit of a bountiful harvest of fruits and vegetables. But we’ve discovered that collecting seeds has been a satisfying extension of our other gardening efforts, and being seed savers has made us better gardeners overall.

Plants do a fine job of producing their own seeds year after year, but when we save seeds for replanting, we must manage the process so that we end up with the healthiest, most vigorous, and most reliable seeds possible. Once our plants set seed, we must know how to collect and store those seeds so their seedlings grow well the next year.

Most gardeners know the basic process by which plants make seeds, but it’s very helpful to learn more about the physiological processes leading to seed production. Among these are how plants produce flowers, how flowers are pollinated, a bit about plant breeding, and how seeds form and ripen. Along the way, we’ll familiarize you with some of the terminology that botanists use to distinguish different types of fruits and seeds. So put on your student cap, and we’ll get started right away with how flowers are pollinated and the process of pollination.

How Flowers Are Pollinated

Pollination is the transfer of pollen from stamens to pistils or from staminate strobili to ovulate strobili. Without pollination, there can be no union of the male and female gametes, and therefore fertilization of the ovule cannot occur. If fertilization does not occur, there will be no fruit and, thus, no seeds.

A self-pollinated plant is one that is pollinated by its own pollen due to flower structure or isolation (physical separation from the pollen of other varieties or species of plants). Cross-pollinated plants are those that are pollinated by pollen from other varieties of the same kind of plant or, in some cases, by other species of plants in the same genus.

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