Fruit tree pollination

A European honey bee pollinates a peach flower while collecting nectar.

Pollination of fruit trees is required to produce seeds with surrounding fruit. It is the process of moving pollen from the anther to the stigma, either in the same flower or in another flower. Some tree species, including many fruit trees, do not produce fruit from self-pollination, so pollinizer trees are planted in orchards.

The pollination process requires a carrier for the pollen, which can be animal, wind, or human intervention (by hand-pollination or by using a pollen sprayer). Cross pollination produces seeds with a different genetic makeup from the parent plants; such seeds may be created deliberately as part of a selective breeding program for fruit trees with desired attributes. Trees that are cross-pollinated or pollinated via an insect pollinator produce more fruit than trees with flowers that just self-pollinate.[1] In fruit trees, bees are an essential part of the pollination process for the formation of fruit.[2]

Pollination of fruit trees around the world has been highly studied for hundreds of years.[1] There is a lot of information known about fruit tree pollination from temperate climates, but very little information known about fruit tree pollination from tropical climates.[1] Fruits from temperature climates include apples, pears, plums, peaches, cherries, berries, grapes, and nuts which are considered dry fruits.[1] Fruits from tropical climates include bananas, pineapples, papayas, passion fruit, avocado, mango, and members of the genus Citrus.


Most apples are self-incompatible, that is, they do not produce fruit when pollinated from a flower of the same tree or from another tree of the same cultivar, and must be cross pollinated. A few are described as "self-fertile" and are capable of self-pollination, although even those tend to carry larger crops when cross pollinated from a suitable pollenizer. A relatively small number of cultivars are "triploid", meaning that they provide almost no viable pollen for themselves or other apple trees. Apples that can pollinate one another are grouped by the time they flower so cross-pollinators are in bloom at the same time. Pollination management is an important component of apple culture. Before planting, it is important to arrange for pollenizers - varieties of apple or crabapple that provide plentiful, viable and compatible pollen. Orchard blocks may alternate rows of compatible varieties, or may plant crabapple trees, or graft on limbs of crabapple. Some varieties produce very little pollen, or the pollen is sterile, so these are not good pollenizers. Good-quality nurseries have pollenizer compatibility lists. Growers with old orchard blocks of single varieties sometimes provide bouquets of crabapple blossoms in drums or pails in the orchard for pollenizers. Home growers with a single tree and no other variety in the neighborhood can do the same on a smaller scale.

During the bloom each season, commercial apple growers usually provide pollinators to carry the pollen. Honeybee hives are most commonly used in the United States, and arrangements may be made with a commercial beekeeper who supply hives for a fee. Honeybees of the genus Apis are the most common pollinator for apple trees, although members of the genera Andrena, Bombus, Halictus, and Osmia pollinate apple trees in the wild.[2] Solitary bees such as ground-nesting mining bees (Andrena) may play a far bigger role in pollination than at one time suspected.[3] Bumble bees are sometimes present in orchards, but not usually in enough quantity to be significant pollinators; in the home garden with only a few trees, their role may be much greater.

Increasingly Orchard bees (spring mason bees) are being used in fruit tree pollination. According to British writer Christopher O'Toole in his book The Red Mason Bee, Osmia rufa is a much more efficient pollinator of orchard crops (in Europe) than honey bees.[4] Both O. rufa and O. cornuta are used in Europe, while in western North America, the "Blue Orchard Bee" (Osmia lignaria, more black than blue in color) is a proven orchard pollinator.[5] In Japan, the Japanese Orchard Bee -- the hornfaced bee, Osmia cornifrons -- provides up to 80% of the apple pollination.[6] Beyond Japan, Osmia cornifrons is also used increasingly in the eastern US, because like other mason bees it is up to 100 times more efficient than the honeybee -- a mere 600 hornfaced bees being required per hectare, as opposed to tens of thousands of honeybees.[7] Home growers may find these more acceptable in suburban locations because they rarely sting.

Symptoms of inadequate pollination are small and misshapen apples, and slowness to ripen. The seeds can be counted to evaluate pollination. Well-pollinated apples have best quality, and will have seven to ten seeds.[8] Apples with fewer than three seeds will usually not mature and will drop from the trees in the early summer. Inadequate pollination can result from either a lack of pollinators or pollenizers, or from poor pollinating weather at bloom time. Multiple bee visits are usually required to deliver sufficient grains of pollen to accomplish complete pollination.


The blossoms of most California Almond varieties are self-incompatible, requiring cross-pollination with other varieties to produce a crop. The single most important factor determining a good yield is pollination during the bloom period. More than a million colonies of honey bees are placed in California Almond orchards at the beginning of the bloom period to pollinate the crop. California beekeepers alone cannot supply this critical need, which is why honey bees travel across the country to the San Joaqin Valley each year. Although the recommended number of hives per acre is 2 to 3, due to the high demand in conjunction with the reduced availability of commercial beehives, many almond growers have to make do with a lower hive density during pollination. These growers started using semiochemical formulations, like SPLAT Bloom,[9] to compensate for the low hive density. SPLAT Bloom manipulates the behavior of the bees, inciting them to spend more time foraging, and thus pollinating flowers in entire the almond orchard (increasing pollination and fruit set), not only close to the hive.

Research into self-fertile almonds has led to the development of several almond varieties that do not need a pollinator tree. Working from an old Spanish variety, "Tuono", researchers in 2008 started making available new self-fertile varieties that more closely match the qualities of the popular "Nonpareil" almond -- including varieties "Lone Star" and "Independence".[10] While self-fertile trees do not require pollen from a second tree variety for fruit / nut set, they still depend upon insect pollination for good production. Almond growers with self-fertile almonds report excellent nut set with half (or less) the number of bees in the field.[11][12][13]


Like apples, pears are self-incompatible and need to attract insects in order to be pollinated and produce fruit.[1] One notable difference from apples is that pear blossoms are much less attractive to bees due to their pale coloring and light odor.[14] Bees may abandon the pear blossoms to visit dandelions or a nearby apple orchard. The majority of pollinators of pear trees are honey bees, although pears are also visited by blow flies and hoverflies.[1] A way to combat the low attraction of honey bees to pear blossoms is to use bee attractants to entice the bees to pollinate the flowers.[14] Bee attractants may include pheromones that mimic the brood pheromone or the juvenile pheromone, or other attractants.[14] There are also other methods for attracting honey bees to pear blossoms. One is saturation pollination, that is to stock so many bees that all area blossoms are worked regardless of the attractiveness to the bees. Another method is to delay the movement of the beehives into the orchards until there is about 30 percent bloom. The bees are moved into the orchard during the night and will usually visit the pear blossoms for a few hours until they discover the richer nectar sources. The recommended number of hives per acre is one.


Many citrus cultivars are seedless and are produced parthenocarpically without pollination. Some cultivars may be capable of producing fruit either way, having seeds in the segments, if pollinated, and no seeds if not. Citrus that requires pollination may be self-compatible, thus pollen must be moved only a short distance from the anther to the stigma by a pollinator. Some citrus, such as Meyer Lemons, are popular container plants. When these bloom indoors, they often suffer from blossom drop because no pollinators have access. Hand pollination by a human pollinator is a solution.

A few citrus,[15] including some tangelos and tangerines, are self-incompatible, and require cross pollination. Pollinizers must be planned when groves are planted. Managed honeybee hives at bloom time are often used to ensure adequate pollination.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Abrol, Dharam (2015). Pollination Biology, Vol. 1. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. ISBN 978-3-319-21084-1.
  2. 1 2 McGregor, Samuel (1976). "Insect pollination of cultivated crop plants". Agricultural Research Service, US Department of Agriculture (496).
  4. Christopher O'Toole, The Red Mason Bee, ISBN 0-9539906-8-0, page 26
  5. Bosch, Jordi; Kemp, William P. (2001). How to Manage the Blue Orchard Bee. Sustainable Agriculture Network.
  6. The Role of Pollen Bees in Fruit Tree Pollination and Some New Cautions on Pesticide Use
    Orchard bees in the genus Osmia have been shown to be more effective at pollinating apples than honeybees. One species, known as the Japanese orchard bee (JOB), is used for pollinating over 80% of all apples in Japan, and is related to several other species used as commercial pollinators of apple and pear in Europe, and almond in the western U.S.
  7. Solitary Bees For Orchard Pollination
    "For the past 15 years, in late winter, I have sent "starter kits" of hornfaced bees, including instructions and materials for nests, to growers, beekeepers, scientists, extension agents, schools, and nature study centers in many states. The bees have survived best in humid parts of USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 to 8. Because these bees are so efficient, only about 600 female bees are needed per hectare of orchard; this compares favorably with the usually recommended two hives of honey bees (with tens of thousand of workers) per hectare. Hornfaced bees strongly prefer the flowers of Rosaceae, and, unlike honey bees, they are not readily distracted by dandelions and other weeds. An individual hornfaced bee is 80 times more effective than an individual worker honey bee for pollination of apples." (Maeta 1990).
  8. Hartman, Fred; Howlett, Freeman (1954). "Fruit setting of the delicious apple". Ohio Agricultural Experiment Station (745): 64.
  9. "ISCA Technologies: A Leader of Innovative Pest Management Tools and Solutions".
  14. 1 2 3 Ma, W.; Shao, Y.; Zhao, H.; Tian, S.; Meng, J.; Yang, S.; Du, L.; Jiang, Y. (1 November 2015). "Using Bee Attractants to Improve Honeybee Foraging on Dangshan Pear (Pyrus communis L.)". Journal of Agricultural Science and Technology. 17 (6). ISSN 1680-7073.
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