How Do Indoor Plants Get Pollinated? (Have You Ever Wondered?)

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How do indoor plants get pollinated? Have you ever wondered?

Well, the answer depends on the type of plant you are talking about! Indoor plants may be pollinated by a number of ways including biotic factors such as insects, abiotic factors such as the wind, or simply self-pollinate.

We will quickly cover the different methods of pollination for indoor plants by comparing and contrasting cross-pollination vs self-pollination.

Keep in mind that pollination refers only to sexual propagation where seeds are produced. Most plants kept indoors as houseplants will never find the right conditions to flower and set seed as they would in their natural habitat, in which case they will continue to propagate through assexual means such as cuttings of roots, leaves or stems.

Many popular indoor plants do however flower and set seed. Some examples of these being…

  • Succulents including cacti
  • Peace lily
  • African violet

What is plant pollination?

Let us begin by taking a brief look at pollination in general. 

Plants have female and male reproductive organs. The male organ is called the anther, and the anther produces pollen (the package that contains male genetic information needed for sexual propagation). The female organ is called the stigma, and it’s the stigma that receives the pollen.

When a plant gets pollinated successfully, it may produce seeds or fruit. Sometimes a plant only gets partially fertilized, and in this case, the seeds or fruit will not mature fully. Sometimes a plant will fail to fertilize at all despite producing flowers, which means it will not produce seeds or fruit.

Photo by Dustin Humes on Unsplash
Photo by Dustin Humes on Unsplash

What is cross-pollination?

Cross-pollination is when a plant requires fertilization from another plant of the same species in order to produce seeds or fruits.

Cross-pollination is made possible by an intervening factor (known as a vector). This intervening factor transports the pollen from the male flower to the female flower to facilitate fertilization.

Some examples of vectors that carry pollen include insects and the wind.

Cross pollination by insects

Cross-pollination by insects is the most recognized form of pollination.

For example, we think of bees that collect pollen from different plants. The bee settles on a plant and it collects the pollen from the male flower. Then as the bee continues to collect pollen from that plant, some pollen spills out and fertilizes the female flower.

Cross-pollination plays a big part in the availability of fruits and vegetables, and it is one reason why the declining bee population is of concern!

Other insects that could influence the cross-pollination of indoor plants include..

  • Ants
  • Wasps
  • Flies
  • Moths

Cross pollination by wind

Cross-pollination by the wind is another method by which indoor plants get fertilized. Plants that are wind-fertilized are usually plants that do not have traditional male and female flowers because they do not need to attract pollinating vectors like bees. 

When a wind-fertilized plant grows, it produces a lot of light pollen. This pollen is picked up by the wind and carried in the air. The female structures in these plants then capture the pollen from the wind and become fertilized.

What is self-pollination?

Self-pollination takes place in flowers with male and female reproductive organs that mature together and grow so that the pollen from the anther of the plant lands directly on the stigma. This proximity causes the plant to fertilize itself.

A vector may assist with self-fertilization, but the plant can usually do the job itself.

Now that we know how pollination takes place, how does pollination take place in indoor plants?

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash
Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash

Cross pollination in indoor plants

Now, it is unlikely that you have a beehive inside your home, and moths are not going to RSVP to an invite…so how do indoor plants get cross-pollinated?

If you want to cross-pollinate plants indoors, you are going to have to facilitate the fertilization process. There are a couple of methods that experienced gardeners use to cross-pollinate their houseplants.

  • Using a paintbrush or other small tool to transfer the pollen
  • Removing the male flower from the plant and using it as a direct source of pollen to pass around

Identify male vs female flowers

Before attempting cross-pollination, you have to be able to tell the difference between male and female flowers. The simplest way to do this is to hop online and pull up an image search of the exact plant you are trying to pollinate.

You may also look carefully at the internal structure of the flower. The flowers with a more complex internal structure and a bulbous base is a female flower. The male flowers has a single tall structure in the center of the flower.

Using a paintbrush to cross pollinate

To cross-pollinate plants using a paintbrush, gently brush the flower’s anther to transfer pollen onto your brush. Then gently brush the stigma to transfer the pollen and fertilize the plant.

A small paintbrush is perfect for cross-pollination, but you can also use any small tool that will gently transfer the pollen from flower to flower.

This method of cross-pollination is a little more fragile and time consuming, but it protects the integrity of the plant.

Removing a male flower for cross pollination

To cross-pollinate using the male flower, you need to take the male flower off your plant. Pull the petals back from the flower then rub the anther of the removed male flower onto the stigma of the female flower.

This method of cross-pollination requires you to remove the male flower from the plant which isn’t ideal, but it is an effective fertilization technique.

Photo by Maria Eliz on Unsplash
Photo by Maria Eliz on Unsplash

Self-pollination in indoor plants

Self-pollinating plants don’t necessarily need help to pollinate, but you can improve your fruit yield by giving your plant a helping hand. There are two ways that you can promote pollination in your indoor self-pollinating plants

  • Using a fan
  • Tapping your flowers to shake loose the pollen

Using a fan to self-pollinate flowers

Turn on a fan and run it at a gentle setting in the room where your plant is kept. The breeze from the fan will help to gently nudge the flowers and facilitate fertilization.

If you use this method to aid fertilization, do not turn your fan on a high setting and do not set it too close to your flowers or it may function to reduce the chances pollen will be shared successfully. 

Tapping to self-pollinate flowers

Just like the breeze from a fan will nudge your flowers to help with self-fertilization, gently tapping your flowers with a finger will have the same effect.

Again, just be sure not to tap the flower too firmly or you could lose the bloom entirely.

You are the key to pollinating indoor plants!

Outdoor plants rely on outside factors to assist with pollination. Even those plants that are self-pollinating get a push from the wind as they deposit pollen into the stigma. With indoor plants, however, traditional external vectors are not available and so it is up to you to do the work of mother nature instead!

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