Understanding pollination for National Pollinator Week

ANGELINA COUNTY, Texas (KLTV) - Pollination is such an important but often overlooked part of fruit and vegetable production. A frequent call that I get is someone asking why their fruit or vegetable crop hasn’t produced. The inquirer will probably have healthy plants that have all the water and nutrients they could want. Light and soil requirements are also sufficient. The homeowner even saw an ample number of blooms earlier in the season.

In this scenario, their plants likely never got pollinated. When pressed about how many bees, butterflies or wasps they’ve seen in the garden, their answer is none. It’s “none” most likely because they haven’t been looking for them, but without something to pollinate your cantaloupes, peaches, beans, or more, you will have nothing to harvest.

Pollination is such a key part of fruit production, and it is often misunderstood. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from a male anther in a flower to the female stigma of another flower in the same species to then grow a viable seed.

If pollination does not occur on my peach tree, then my peach tree sees no reason to develop the fruit around a non-fertile seed. Honestly, I’ve never cared if there was a viable seed within my peach, but if there wasn’t a viable seed from successful pollination, then you can bet the peach tree won’t spend it’s time and resources developing it. It will just try again next year.

Before we move on, let’s take that point one step further. Will the pollen from one peach tree, affect the fruit of another? No. A fertile seed in the middle of a fruit, will be the combination of genetics from two different flowers. The genetic combination will affect the growth and production ability of the subsequent generation, meaning once planted then it would show its own unique characteristics in that next fruit.

For home gardeners, if a straight-neck squash flower is pollinated by a Burpless cucumber, the squash plant will still grow a straight-neck squash. The genetic combination is held in the seed and will exhibit itself when it is planted and bears its own fruit.

It is important to recognize the variety of pollinators that exist in addition to Honeybees. In Texas alone, the designation “pollinators” properly includes bats, bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, wasps, flies, and beetles. There are approximately 3,600 bee species alone, which are native to the United States. Bumble bees, blue orchard bees, leafcutter bees, long-horned bees, mason bees, and the sweat bee are just a few types of the many in our area.

In celebration of National Pollination Week, Angelina Beautiful/Clean will be hosting a “Pollinator Party” from 10 am to 11 am on Thursday, June 23 at the Texas Forestry Museum on 1905 Atkinson Dr. in Lufkin. There will be family friendly activities for all ages.

Cary Sims

Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu