Collect Pollen

Flowers that produce pollen tend to make a lot of it. See the yellow powder in the picture in this blog? The yellow powder is pollen, a powdery substance released from male flowers. Pollen is light, and many species have air bladders (think little balloons) on their pollen so it travels on a wisp of air flow. THIS CAN BE A PROBLEM FOR INDOOR GROWERS! One male flower can pollinate all your female flowers; this is not acceptable unless you want a mediocre breeding program.

Collect pollen. As you know from my last post, pollen carries the male DNA and is the plant equivalent of sperm. As a breeder you must select which plant(s) will donate the pollen and which plant(s) will receive the pollen. You must be sure to collect only pollen from the male flower you want, and be sure no other pollen contaminates (pollinates) the female. It may be a good idea to keep the male flowers away from the selected female flowers if you can. If you have plants with separate male and female flowers put the male in a different room; with perfect flowers you need to cut the anthers off the “female” as soon as you can recognize them on the designated female flowers. Choosing who the parents are is absolutely crucial to a good breeding program. To gather the pollen you may be able to simply hold an envelope or vial under a mature anther and gently tap it to collect the pollen. The pollen will be the same in any flower on ONE plant, so you can collect pollen from multiple flowers if they are on the SAME plant. Once you collect the pollen you must apply it to the female flower, the stigma. There are many different types of flowers, so I will break pollination types down into two groups, wind and animal pollinators.

Wind vs. animal pollination. If your plant is insect pollinated, you will need to manually collect pollen and put it directly on the female parts with a small paint brush. If your plant is wind pollinated an easy way to pollinate a female flower is to put the pollen in a brown paper bag, and place the bag over the branch of the female plant to be fertilized. You then give the bad a shake each day for a few days and that is it. If you want, you can also use a small paintbrush to apply the pollen to the female flower of wind pollinated plants too. Some people find it makes them feel more involved and intimate when they do the pollination, and you should enjoy your hobby.

How do you know if you plant is wind or animal pollinated? Plants with wind pollinated flowers tend to have flowers that are small and/or not easily seen. Wind pollinated plants typically produce large amounts of pollen. On the other hand, plants with big showy flowers tend to make less pollen and are pollinated by an animal of some sort (usually insects). This makes sense if you think about it, a flower is trying to get something’s attention, but a plant like corn or your grass does not need to waste energy in making a structure to attract the wind. If it uses a lot of energy, why do any plants make flowers then? The benefit to putting energy into a big showy flower and being pollinated by an animal is that animals will go directly from one flowering plant to the next; making pollination much more successful. The wind will carry pollen which ever way the wind may blow, so wind pollinated plants need to use more energy to make A LOT of pollen. If you live near pine trees you know how pollen “yellow dust” can cover any and everything outside in a good spring.

Pollen is like beer, you need to wait until it is done, but it is best when fresh. I recomend you use pollen the day you harvest it. I believe most pollen will remain viable for a few days at room temperature. You can freeze pollen and use it over multiple generations, as a form of a back cross (more on breeding later). The success of fertilization will decrease over time I imagine, so store a lot more pollen than you plan to use. In general, pollen is smaller and has a shorter life span than seeds but you can store it the same as seeds (see post on 2/06/09 seed storage) For longer storage of pollen you can place the pollen in an air tight container in the freezer for up to a year. It may last longer than a year, but I have never tested that. Once you get good at pollination, you could pollinate one female plant with several different pollen parents. Be sure to label each cross carefully. This would allow you to try several crosses during one flowering period. You can then grow the different varieties and select which are the best for your growing needs.

Next blog I will talk about how to apply pollen, and then different breeding techniques.

Good Growing!

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