Causes Of Pollination
Inside the Outdoors, May 28, 2010

Recently while visiting my brother-in-law in Indiana, Joe Kucinski, we got to talkin’ during a project he was doing in his back yard, and he disclosed something that was a first for both of us, and just may be for you, as well. Upon purchasing an apple tree, he was told one cannot buy just one. The rule of thumb (green?) is that two have to be purchased. Wanting to make sure Joe wasn’t getting hit with a sales pitch, I decided to contact an orchardist just to make sure everything was on the up and up (no pun intended), so to speak. I was surprised when I learned all was pretty much in order.

According to Kevin Kellam from Hollybrook Orchards, “If you choose a self-pollinating apple variety, then you only need one tree to successfully produce fruit. If you choose a variety that requires a separate apple variety for cross-pollination, then you will need to plant at least two trees to successfully produce fruit, unless you or a neighbor are already growing a compatible apple variety nearby.”

He went on to point out, “If you choose the self-pollinating variety, you can successfully produce apples with just one tree. But if you plant two trees of the same self-pollinating variety, or one each of the self-pollinating variety and a different yet compatible variety, each tree will be more productive because of the cross pollination that occurs between the two trees,” he concluded. I guess that is as good as it gets for answers.

So there we sat, the whole clan on the family porch, shaded by the most beautiful rhododendron bush that eyes could ever behold. This thing was huge. But over and above that, amongst the gabbiness of participants, the sounds of buzzing were nonstop, that of bumblebees making visitations from flower to flower. Their presence prompted me to do some more investigation. I think it was fairly obvious what was taking place – the act of pollination. Learning and conveying the basics was next in line, and that is what I set out to do.

By definition, it is the process by which pollen is transferred in plants. Most everyone knows that. But, here are some facts that blew me away.

According to the Wikipedia Website, “Only 10% of flowering plants are pollinated without animal assistance. The most common form, anemophily, is done so by wind. This form is predominant in grasses, most conifers, and many deciduous trees. Hydrophily is pollination by water and occurs in aquatic plants that release their pollen directly into surrounding water. About 80% of all plant pollination is biotic (having the inherent capacity to survive and reproduce under given or optimum conditions). Of the 20% of abiotically pollinated species, 98% is by wind and 2% by water.” Learned something!

We all know that the family members of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds make frequent visits to our neighborhoods. But I’ll be the first to state that I had no idea there were 200,000 varieties of animal pollinators in the world, most of which include insects.

And what attracts these creatures to these plants? A sweet, liquid secretion known as nectar. It is the culprit that draws all pollinators to the plants

Cross or self-pollination are two ways the acts can be accomplished.

The first, also referred to as allogamy, occurs when pollen is delivered to a flower from a different plant. Self-pollination occurs when pollen from one flower pollinates the same flower or other flowers of the same individual. Of the two, cross-pollination is most common and occurs when the sticky pollen clings to the body of visitors which, in turn, is transferred to another plant.

Generally speaking, most apples, pears, plums and sweet cherry trees require a pollinator, although there are few self-pollinating varieties in each in each of those fruit types. Peaches, nectarines, tart cherries and apricots are almost always self-pollinating.

So when you see wildlife flying around flowers, don’t swat at them. Let them alone. They just may be responsible for not only adding food to your table, but a bit of beauty beyond our wildest imaginations.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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