Excerpted from Beekeeper's Handbook, Sammataro/Avitabile ©1998.
This section is about how flowers, from apples to
rutabagas, are pollinated, set seed and bear fruit. It also
outlines the importance of adequate pollination from bees
and other pollinators. Growers and beekeepers may have
to have wild or native bee pollinators help honey bees
with the pollination tasks. Many beekeepers are supple-
menting the pollination workforce by rearing native bees
such as sweat bees, bumble bees and leafcutter bees, to
name a few.
Flowers are the reproductive parts of a plant, where
seeds are formed and from which the fruits and vegetables
develop. For the cycle to begin, a pollen grain, which is
often carried on an insect or by the wind, comes in
contact with the stigma (or female part) of the same
Fertilization takes place when pollen from the anther
(male organ) unites with a female ovule, which forms the
seed and fruit. Each species of plant has its unique shape
and form of pollen grains, which enables paleobotanists,
studying ancient plants, to identify pollen from the mud
at the bottom of 10,000 year old bogs. The transfer of
pollen from male to female sex organs is called pollina-
tion. All plants must be pollinated before seed (or fruit)
will set. Pollen is transferred from the anthers to the
stigma by wind, water, gravity, mammals, birds, humans
If the transfer takes place on the same blossom or on
another blossom on the same plant, it is called self-polli-
nation. Beans, for example, are self-pollinating. Though
many kinds of beans and other plants do not need insect
visitors, they do benefit from the extra pollen carried by
them and may even set better or more fruit. This is true
for soybeans and lima beans.
But if the pollen goes from a Red Delicious apple tree
to a Granny Smith apple tree, this is called cross-pollina-
tion. Apples and many fruits have a further complication.
Many varieties are self -sterile. That means the pollen
from the Red Delicious will NOT pollinate itself or flow-
ers from other Red Delicious trees. It must have another
variety of apple pollen to set fruit.
The placement of apple varieties, size of the blocks of
(trees used just as a source of pollen) and length
of rows may be important in fruit set in the orchard.
Pollinizers in apple orchards are sometimes crabapple trees.
It is important not to have too big a block of any one
variety in any single area of the orchard.
Many plants are wind pollinated, including all the
grasses (and their cultivated cousins corn, oats, wheat,
rice), tomatoes, ragweed and evergreen trees. Such pollen
is light and is produced in enormous quantities and is the
cause of allergic reactions or hayfever to many people.