Cross pollination vs Self pollination

Last Updated: April 25, 2024

Cross pollination vs Self pollination

In the diverse world of plant reproduction, cross-pollination and self-pollination stand out as two fundamental mechanisms that facilitate the transfer of pollen. These processes are crucial for the survival and evolutionary success of many plant species. Cross-pollination involves the transfer of pollen between different plants, promoting genetic diversity and often resulting in stronger, more resilient offspring. In contrast, self-pollination occurs within the same flower or between flowers of the same plant, ensuring reproductive success but at the cost of genetic variation.

Cross Pollination

Cross pollination is a biological process in which pollen from the flower of one plant is transferred to the stigma of a flower on a different individual of the same species. This transfer often occurs via external agents such as insects, birds, wind, or water. Cross pollination promotes genetic diversity within a population by mixing the genetic material of different plants, which can lead to greater resilience and adaptability to environmental changes. This diversity is beneficial for the evolutionary process, as it can result in new traits that may improve survival and reproduction.

Example of Cross Pollination

Cross pollination occurs when pollen from the flower of one plant is transferred to the stigma of a flower on a different individual plant. This process often involves biotic vectors like bees, butterflies, and birds, or abiotic factors such as wind and water. For instance, the apple tree (Malus domestica) relies predominantly on bees for cross pollination. As bees move from tree to tree in search of nectar, they inadvertently carry pollen on their bodies, facilitating the cross pollination necessary for fruit production. This method enhances genetic diversity, leading to more resilient plant populations.

Self Pollination

Self pollination occurs when pollen from the anther of a flower is transferred to the stigma of the same flower or another flower on the same plant. This process does not involve the genetic mixing seen in cross pollination, leading to offspring that are genetically similar to the parent plant. Self pollination is common in plants that have flowers capable of fertilizing themselves, an advantage in isolated or stable environments where pollinators are scarce. However, it can lead to reduced genetic variation, which might limit the plant’s ability to adapt to changing conditions.

Example of Self Pollination

Self pollination refers to the transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma of the same flower or another flower on the same plant. This method is common in plants that produce flowers capable of self-fertilization, which includes many types of peas and beans. An example is the pea plant (Pisum sativum), which often self-pollinates before its flowers even open. The petals remain sealed shut, and the anthers release pollen directly onto the stigma within the same flower, leading to fertilization and subsequent seed development without the need for external pollen vectors. This process ensures reproductive success but limits genetic variation.

Differences between Self and Cross-Pollination

FeatureCross PollinationSelf Pollination
DefinitionTransfer of pollen from the anther of one plant to the stigma of another plant.Transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma within the same flower or plant.
Genetic DiversityHigh genetic diversity due to mixing of different genetic materials.Low genetic diversity as the genetic material remains within the same plant.
Pollination AgentsOften involves agents such as insects, birds, wind, and water.Does not typically require external agents; can occur with the plant itself.
DependencyDepends on external factors like pollinators or environmental conditions.Mostly independent of external factors.
ExamplesApples, almonds, and tomatoes where bees, wind, and other agents play a role.Peas, orchids, and wheat, where flowers self-pollinate without opening.
Seed VariationSeeds produced have higher variability, which can lead to stronger plant strains.Seeds generally show less variation, leading to uniformity in plant strains.
AdaptabilityBetter adaptability to environmental changes due to diverse genetic makeup.Less adaptable to environmental changes due to limited genetic variation.
Reproductive SuccessPotentially reduced by factors like poor pollinator availability.Generally ensured, as it does not rely on external pollination factors.
Ecological RolePromotes biodiversity and ecosystem resilience through genetic exchange.Less impactful on biodiversity but ensures the survival of specific plant types.
Energy EfficiencyLess energy efficient as it requires mechanisms to attract and utilize pollinators.More energy efficient as it requires fewer resources for pollination.
Flower StructureFlowers are often colorful and scented to attract pollinators.Flowers may be less conspicuous and lack scents since they don’t need to attract pollinators.
Geographic SpreadFacilitates wider geographic spread and adaptation of species.Limits geographic spread and adaptation due to lack of genetic exchange.
Flowering TimeFlowers must synchronize with the availability of pollinators, often leading to specific flowering seasons.Flowering can occur independently of external conditions, leading to more flexible timing.
Pollinator RelationshipsOften develops specialized relationships with specific types of pollinators.No need for relationships with pollinators, leading to a simpler ecological interaction.
Inbreeding DepressionLower risk of inbreeding depression due to genetic mixing.Higher risk of inbreeding depression due to repeated self-pollination.
Cost of ReproductionHigher cost due to the need to produce attractive flowers and nectar.Lower cost since there’s no need to invest in attracting pollinators.
Evolutionary DrivePromotes evolutionary changes and speciation through the introduction of new genetic variations.Promotes stability and preservation of existing genetic traits.

Key Similarities between Self and Cross-Pollination

  • Purpose: Both processes aim to achieve the same goal—fertilization and subsequent seed production, essential for plant reproduction.
  • Biological Components: Both involve the same biological structures, including stamens (which produce pollen) and pistils (which receive pollen).
  • Fundamental Process: At their core, both methods involve the transfer of pollen grains to a stigma, initiating the process of fertilization.
  • Occurrence in Angiosperms: Both types of pollination are found within the angiosperms (flowering plants), the largest group of plants in terms of species diversity.
  • Adaptation Strategies: Both mechanisms are evolutionary adaptations that plants have developed to ensure reproductive success across different environmental conditions.


What is the Difference Between Self and Cross-Pollination?

Self-pollination occurs within the same flower or plant, while cross-pollination involves two separate plants, enhancing genetic diversity.

What are the Advantages of Cross-Pollination?

Cross-pollination increases genetic variability, enhances disease resistance, and improves plant adaptability and survival rates.

Is Cross-Pollination Good or Bad?

Cross-pollination is generally beneficial as it promotes genetic diversity, stronger plant species, and ecosystem resilience.

What are the Examples of Self-Pollination?

Examples of self-pollination include pea plants (Pisum sativum), wheat (Triticum spp.), and many orchids.

What Flowers Can Self-Pollinate?

Flowers that can self-pollinate include tomatoes, peas, and some species of sunflowers and orchids.

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