Year of the Pollinator Series – April: Hand Pollination

Presenting: Awbury’s 2018 series on pollinators– from wasps to wind! 

Monthly articles will correspond with our programming and our “Pollinators FOUND at Awbury Arboretum” art show and scavenger hunt.

Articles written by La Salle student and Awbury intern Dan Sardaro.

April 2018 –  HAND POLLINATION: 

Hand pollination tile - Karen Singer

Hand pollination tile – of the FOUND exhibit by Karen Singer Tileworks


As we’ve been learning in the previous blog posts, there are a myriad of natural pollinators that help plant species across the globe. Bees, wind, and other pollinators yet to come all have a vital role in the reproduction and health of our environment. However, not all pollination processes occur naturally. One way in which plants can be pollinated is through the help of the human hand. This month, Karen Singer’s tile work includes a hand filled with pollen reaching for the flower of a squash, illustrating a certain way for the plant to bear fruit without the help of insects.

Hand pollination is really only used when one critical thing is absent – a population of natural pollinators. Countries like China and Brazil have recently been struggling with this problem due to the drastic decline in bee populations. Farmers in those nations employ hand pollinators to go around to each fruit tree and disperse pollen to ensure that they get a crop yield. This method is long, tedious work, but it’s either pollination by hand, or no produce at all.

While the disappearance of bees in some parts of the globe is severe, our local cityscapes are not as negatively impacted. However, this does not mean that we are totally immune to a lack of pollinators. Cities, and especially suburbs, can sometimes be hostile environments to certain insect populations, and as a result, the distribution of pollen may be sporadic, thus yielding little to no produce in home gardens. While this may deter some from pursuing their own gardens, humans can act as pollinators as well.

Hand Pollination, credit: Planet Natural

Hand Pollination, credit: Planet Natural

Taking the squash for example, the gourd is a crop that benefits from hand pollination. Unique to only a few plant species, squashes have separate male and female flowers. To correctly pollinate the female flower so that it forms a fruit, pollen needs to be put directly on the female stigma, or the receiving end of the flower. By removing the petals from the male flower, this will expose the anther, or the small rod inside of the flower that produces pollen. Using the pollen-covered anther just like a small brush, you can accurately spread the pollen to the awaiting flowers. In doing this, you become the pollinator. Note that the morning is an optimal time to hand pollinate – high humidity helps activate the pollen, and the flowers will be in bloom during the day. Learning this method can even be applied to other crops. Corn and pumpkins can benefit from similar methods.

However, our ability to act as a natural force of the ecosystem does not mean that humans can replace bees, nor does it mean that our actions can remain unchecked. In actuality, life on planet Earth would look totally foreign to us if pollinators did not exist. Countless organisms depend on the work of pollinators in so many ways, and humans are no exception. Of the 100 crop species that feed 90% of the world, over 70 of those species are pollinated by bees. Therefore, losing bee colonies could foreshadow a bleak picture for agriculture and the health of our rapidly increasing population.

My advice? Educate yourself on the ways in which you can personally help bee and other pollinator populations in your own backyard. These monthly posts will include ways in which you can actively help the bee’s cause, and doing little things can make a difference!

Sources Used:

Kopp, Glenn, and Chip Tynan. “Hand Pollination of Squash and Pumpkins.” Missouri Botanical Garden, Missouri Botanical Garden, www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/gardens-gardening/your-garden/help-for-the-home-gardener/advice-tips-resources/visual-guides/pollination-of-squash-and-pumpkins.aspx.

Moate, Maddie. “Future – What Would Happen If Bees Went Extinct?” BBC, BBC, 4 May 2014, www.bbc.com/future/story/20140502-what-if-bees-went-extinct.

Muller, Natalie. “Pollinating by Hand: Doing Bees’ Work | Environment| All Topics from Climate Change to Conservation | DW | 31.07.2014.” DW.COM, Deutsche Welle , 31 July 2014, www.dw.com/en/pollinating-by-hand-doing-bees-work/a-17822242.

Thralls, Ed, and Danielle Treadwell. “Home Vegetable Garden Techniques: Hand Pollination of Squash and Corn in Small Gardens.” EDIS New Publications RSS, Horticultural Sciences, 7 Nov. 2017, edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs398.