Sunday, July 7, 2013

Dioecious plants and staminate vs pistillate

After only a few months of "gardening" I feel as though it's commonly known what purpose flowers serve as it relates to vegetable-bearing plants. When I think back to my first home grown plant, a bell pepper, I had no idea plants would flower, let alone what happened after they went away.

I began growing a bell pepper plant indoors from some of the seed I removed from a store bought pepper at a local grocer. The plant grew and I continued to transplant and give it time under my CFL lamps all through the night until it was in a 5-gallon bucket filling on top of our dryer. Go ahead, insert "You might be a redneck if...." here.

After what seemed an eternity, little white blossoms began popping out. I was so green to the whole process I started deadheading a couple that had lost their color only to find a pepper had began to bud inside. DOH! To make me feel even more ignorant, I had already gone through the process of hand pollinating the blossoms as I knew there were no bees, ants, or other insects inside that could accomplish this task.

Fast forward to July 2013. My garden is in full bloom: I have well over 300 tomatoes on the vine, I've already harvest zucchinis, potatoes, peppers, and more, and I am finally noticing my spaghetti squash is bearing a few squashes. I didn't know how or when exactly I would see it, but it kind of jumped out at me today just like our zucchini and cucumber plants.

Male flower (staminate)
A squash, zucchini, cucumber, pumpkin, and dozens of other vining plants - as well as trees - are what are known as a dioecious plant. This means that the male flower and the female flower appear on separate individuals and the female must be pollinated by the male in order to produce mature fruit.

The male flower, or staminate, will sit atop a long stem (depending on the plant) and appear like the picture of my spaghetti squash to the right. Once it develops stamen inside the flower it will open and appear in full bloom. This is where the pollen will form and insects will begin their job moving from male blooms to female blooms to complete the pollination process.

Female flower (pistillate)
The female flower, or pistillate, will appear exactly as the male flower but with one glaring difference -- it is sitting at the end of the fruit the plant is bearing. The unnoticeable difference is that it will not contain stamen.

The first time I realized this and actually saw it was earlier this year on my zucchini plant. I had to wait a couple of days before both the male and female flowers were open but once that occurred it was like some sort of geeky closure in my mind.

In the event you do not notice many bees, you have magically been able to rid your garden of ants, and you have poor fruit production on your plant, you can assist mother nature in the pollination process in a matter of a few seconds. Once both the male and female flowers are open, find the male and lightly swab the inside of the flower with a Q-Tip. The yellowish pollen will coat the tip of the, uh, Q, and you simply swab it on the inside of the female...kind of interesting and the way God intended the whole "process" to work, wouldn't you say?