Unlocking the Power of Cross-Pollination: The Significance for Your Garden

Hybrids are created when you plant a seed that you have saved and grow a fruit, vegetable or flower that is completely different from the original seed. Cross-pollination is a method of fertilizing the flower on the original seed by another species.

What is cross pollination?
Pollen from one flower can reach the pistils in another. This plant “pollinated”, and the genetic material of both plants will combine. The hybrid plant is created when the seeds from this plant are saved, and then regrown.

It’s likely that your hybrid plant was an accident of nature. However, intentionally crossing species in order to create plants with better fruit, larger blooms, or different colors is a large part of gardening culture.

Understanding cross-pollination is important for home gardeners. It helps them plan a garden in line with their intentions.

What is cross-pollination?
Cross-pollination is important to understand how plants reproduce, including flowering, fruiting, and seed production. Flowers can either be complete (which means that they contain both male and female parts) or incomplete (which only contains the stamen or pistil parts).

In plants with incomplete flower, pollen is carried by insects or the wind from the stamen to the pistil. The pollen is caught at the top (the stigma) of the pistil and falls down to fertilize an ovule. This ovule then develops into either a fruit or seed.

Cross-pollination can be done by mechanical or natural means. It happens when plants of the same genus are more susceptible than others. Cross-pollination between plants of different genera is very rare.

Cross-pollination is more likely to occur in certain fruits and vegetables, making saving seeds pointless. Some seeds, such as sweet corn, are edible and can cross-pollinate with other varieties.

Squash Plants
Cross-pollination is likely when plants produce incomplete male and/or female flowers. A honeybee collects pollen grains from a stamen on the male flower of a zucchini. She then flies to the nearby female flower of butternut squash. Zucchini pollen will fall from her body and land on the stigma of a butternut flower. The fruit is still butternut, but it has seeds that have characteristics of both butternut and zucchini.

Sweet Corn
Cross-pollination of sweet corn can change the ear. This is the part that we eat. Planting a sweet yellow and sweet white variety together will likely result in mixed ears. Sweet corn can also cross-pollinate with field corn. This results in a tough and chewy vegetable, as well as a ruined harvest.

Trees and Shrubs
Since many fruit trees and shrubs are not able to self-pollinate, they require two plants. The chances of fruit are increased when two plants are used. This is because more flowers mature at different times.

Only male or female flowers are pollinated by bees on holly shrubs. For a female shrub to produce fruit, two male and female flowers are required. Pawpaws are complete flowers, but the stamen (male) does not produce pollen until the stigma (female) is mature. The stigma becomes inactive or unresponsive by the time the pollen is produced.

Explaining Cross-Pollination and Self-Pollination
Self-pollinating flowers have both male and feminine parts. Cross-pollination can still occur, but is less likely as both the male and female reproductive parts are present in each flower.

Beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots and kohlrabi are all self-pollinating plants.

It’s best to keep the heirloom tomatoes at least 25 feet apart from other varieties if you want to plant them again next year. The odds are that the fruit you save will be true to its parent. However, it is possible that a bee brought pollen from another variety and visited the seed.

How hybrids are formed from cross-pollination
A hybrid plant is a mixture of traits from the parent plants within the same species. These plants are produced by cross-pollination, which is caused by insects, the environment, or humans. Experts also use other methods for developing hybrids, and the race to produce a cultivar that has desirable characteristics can be competitive. To achieve a marketable status, it takes a lot of effort and years of trial-and-error. Commercially viable hybrids include tangelos and jostaberries, Better Boy tomato, Meyer lemons, and tangelos.

The garden edibles that are grown using packaged hybrid seeds have a better resistance to disease. Saved seed is often sterile, and even if it’s viable will grow slower than the parent plant. Fruits are variable, with smaller blooms and a lower yield. Look for the symbol F1, or the words ‘hybrid,’ or the abbreviation “hyb” on your seed packet. To ensure consistent results, plant purchased seed instead of saving yours.