Self-Pollinating Plants Don’t Need Bees, But They Still Help

small flower on cucumber plant being pollinated by a bee

In addition to terms such as hybrid, heirloom, or organic, it’s likely that you’ve seen the term self-pollinating crop in your search for plants to buy.

But what exactly does this term mean? And how does this compare to always hearing that bees are great for your garden and necessary for pollination?

Self-pollinating plants can pollinate themselves without the assistance of bees or other insects. These plants rely on environmental factors such as wind and rain to transfer pollen from the male reproductive organ (stamen) to the female reproductive organ (pistil).

Keep reading to learn more about self-pollinating plants and how they differ from those that require bees or other insects for pollination.

What is pollination, and why is it important?

Pollination is when pollen from a plant is transferred to another plant or flower for successful reproduction. This process is an essential part of the life cycle of many plants, as it allows them to produce offspring (seed production) and continue thriving in their environment.

For pollination to occur, there must be a source of pollen (the plant’s male reproductive cells) and a receiving stigma (the female reproductive cell of a plant). Typically, as a bee travels from flower to flower, it collects pollen on its body and transfers it to other flowers as it visits them.

illustration of the parts of a flower labeled with text
Photo courtesy of Michigan State University Extension

However, when plants can pollinate themselves without the assistance of bees or other insects, they are referred to as being self-pollinating. This means that these plants do not require an outside pollen source to produce offspring or fruit.

Do self-pollinating plants need bees?

Self-pollinating plants don’t need bees to set fruit or produce seeds, but they can still benefit from being visited by bees. Bees and other insects are highly efficient at transferring pollen, and they can help the plant set more fruit and have heavier yields.

However, if you don’t see any bees or you’re explicitly growing self-pollinating varieties, you can rest assured that your plants will still produce fruit and seeds without them.

How does self-pollination work with plants?

Self-pollination is when pollen is transferred from a plant’s male reproductive cells to the female reproductive cells within the same plant instead of mixing pollen from multiple plants (cross-pollination).

These plants produce “perfect” flowers with both male and female structures. They can transfer the pollen within the same flower without the help of bees, as described by Michigan State University Extension.

The pollen falls from the stamen to the pistil, completing pollination without external help. Self-pollinating plants typically produce large quantities of pollen, increasing the chances of successful pollination.

That being said, there are a few ways the weather can help the pollination process, such as wind and rain.

As the wind blows, it can cause the pollen to become airborne and pushed from the stamen to the pistil. As for rain, when raindrops fall on a flower, they can dislodge pollen and carry it to the flower’s stigma.

Are there any benefits to having bees pollinate self-pollinating plants?

It’s still beneficial to have bees visit self-pollinating plants, as bee pollination has been shown to improve fruit set in some self-pollinating plants. This improvement is likely because bees can transfer pollen more efficiently than wind or water.

Additionally, bee pollination can also improve the quality of the fruits and vegetables produced by self-pollinating plants.

Are there any downsides of self-pollination in plants?

While self-pollination has several advantages, there are also some potential disadvantages. One of the biggest dangers of self-pollination is the increased likelihood of mutations.

For example, in plants that rely on bees for pollination, the introduction of new genetic material due to cross-pollination helps offset the risk of mutations.

However, pollen is typically contained in a single flower or plant in self-pollinating plants. This can lead to an increased likelihood of negative genetic changes such as reduced yield or viability of seeds.

In some cases, such as cucumbers, self-pollinating varieties don’t produce many, if any, seeds, so buying new seed packets will be necessary if you were hoping to save seeds. Additionally, buying this type of seeds may be more expensive than other varieties because it’s more labor-intensive to actually produce them.

What are some common garden vegetables that are self-pollinating?

There are more self-pollinating garden crops than you might realize, which can lengthen your list of viable crops to grow if you don’t have much pollinator activity.

Some common garden vegetables that are self-pollinating include tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

That being said, the vibration of a bee’s wings or a gentle breeze can help to shake the pollen loose, and many gardeners are happy to have pollinators like bees to improve yields or the quality of their crops.

Other common vegetables that don’t depend on bee pollination include leafy greens, beans, peas, root crops like beets, and cole crops such as kale and cabbage.

Even though these crops can still transfer pollen between flowers of the same plant without the help of bees, many gardeners still hope to see bees in their gardens to help improve fruit set and seed production.

Some crops that typically need cross-pollination with the help of bees also have self-pollinating varieties that can be grown in greenhouses.

For example, many commercial varieties, such as the cucumbers you find in the grocery store, are grown from these special varieties to decrease the risk of a poor harvest due to a lack of pollinator activity.

To hedge your bets and help bring bees to your garden for maximum pollination and production, try planting some flowers to catch a bee’s eye. If you’re not sure what to plant, here are some varieties to get you started: 9 Pollinator-Friendly Cut Flowers For Your Garden.

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