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Pollination of crops

Pollination of crops

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Larry Sagers Horticultural Specialist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office © All Rights Reserved Pollination is the transfer of pollen within a flower or between flowers. It is essential for many vegetables, fruits and other plants to produce. In vegetables where you eat the leaves (greens, spinach, cabbage) and roots (beets, carrots, radishes), pollination is not important unless you are producing seeds.

In vegetables where you eat the developing fruit, ripened fruit, or the seed (snap beans, melons, corn), pollination is essential. Some 250,000 species of flowering plants on earth that require pollination. Wind, gravity, water, birds, bats, and insects all help pollinate plants. Plants that produce light and easily blown pollen are wind-pollinated plants. Pine trees and corn are two examples of wind-pollinated plants. Many plants produce pollen that is heavy and sticky and not blown easily from flower to flower. These are insect pollinated plants. Bees visit wind and self pollinated vegetables and fruits and collect pollen and nectar.

Since pollinating insects are so important in the garden, protect them when choosing and applying insecticides. Choose insecticides that are least toxic to bees and apply them late in the day when bees are not actively working in the garden. Pollination in all beans, peas, and tomatoes is self pollination because the transfer of pollen takes place within the individual flowers without the aid of insects or wind.

Squash, pumpkins, melons, and most cucumbers are insect pollinated. These vegetables have male and female flower parts in separate flowers on the same plant. Insects transfer pollen from male flowers to female flowers while going from flower to flower collecting nectar and pollen. The most common pollinating insects are honeybees and bumblebees

Vegetables that are self and insect pollinated often suffer from lack of pollination and fertilization, just as wind-pollinated corn does. High temperatures, shade, and insufficient moisture make pollen that is not viable. This causes a lack of fruit development and poorly shaped fruit cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes and many other fruits.

Many gardeners worry about cross-pollination between different vegetables. Different varieties of the same wind and insect pollinated vegetables cross, but there is no crossing between the different vegetables. All summer squash, pumpkins, vegetable spaghetti, acorn squash, and small ornamental gourds are closely related and do cross if planted close to one another.

This is of no concern to gardeners who do not save their own seed. Jumbo pumpkins and most winter squash can cross. If you grow several varieties of summer and winter squash and pumpkins in the same garden, purchase fresh seed each year.


Visit Red Butte Gardens Monday evening, June 30, 2003 set out on an adventure to explore plants and their pollinators.

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