Self pollination

Last Updated: July 8, 2024

Self pollination

Self-pollination is a fascinating reproductive mechanism in plants where pollen from the same flower or different flowers of the same plant fertilizes the ovules. This process ensures that a plant can reproduce independently, without the need for external pollinators such as insects or wind. Self-pollination plays a crucial role in the survival and propagation of many plant species, especially those in isolated or stable environments where cross-pollination opportunities may be limited. It offers the advantage of preserving successful genetic traits but at the cost of reduced genetic diversity. In this introduction, we explore how self-pollination occurs and its implications for plant evolution and adaptation.

What is Self-Pollination?

Self-pollination is a form of reproduction in plants where pollen from an anther of a flower lands on the stigma of the same flower or another flower on the same plant. This process enables a plant to fertilize itself without relying on external agents like insects, animals, or wind for the transfer of pollen.

Types of Self-Pollination

1. Autogamy

Autogamy refers to the transfer of pollen from the anthers to the stigma of the same flower. This type of self-pollination ensures that a plant can reproduce independently, without the need for pollen to move between different flowers. It often occurs in plants with flowers that are capable of self-fertilizing without opening (cleistogamous flowers), which protects the reproductive process from environmental variables and maximizes the chances of successful pollination.

2. Geitonogamy

Geitonogamy involves the transfer of pollen from the anther of one flower to the stigma of another flower on the same individual plant. While this is technically a form of self-pollination because it does not introduce genetic material from another plant, it still requires some form of pollen transfer mechanism, such as wind or insects. Geitonogamy is similar to cross-pollination in its dependence on these agents but does not enhance genetic diversity since the pollen does not come from a different genetic individual.

3. Cleistogamy

Cleistogamy is a unique form of autogamy where flowers never open and self-pollinate internally. These closed flowers ensure that self-pollination occurs without any interference from the external environment. Many grass species, including some types of wheat and barley, exhibit cleistogamy, which guarantees reproduction without the need for pollinators and reduces the risk of hybridization, maintaining genetic purity.

Self-Pollination in Plants

Self-pollination in plants is a process where a plant’s pollen fertilizes its own ovules, allowing it to reproduce without the need for external pollinators. This process can occur within the same flower, or pollen may transfer to another flower on the same plant. Plants that self-pollinate often exhibit specific adaptations that enhance the likelihood of self-fertilization.

Key Characteristics of Self-Pollinating Plants

1. Flower Structure: Many self-pollinating plants have flowers designed to facilitate the easy transfer of pollen to the stigma. For example, the anthers and stigmas are positioned closely to increase the chances of pollen contact. Some flowers may even remain closed (cleistogamous), ensuring that only self-pollination occurs.

2. Reduced Reliance on Pollinators: Since these plants do not depend heavily on pollinators like bees, birds, or wind, they often have less conspicuous flowers. These flowers might not produce a strong scent or vibrant colors, as their primary focus is not to attract external pollinators.

3. Genetic Consistency: Self-pollination leads to a high degree of genetic similarity between parent plants and their offspring, preserving successful adaptations over generations. This consistency is crucial for plants in stable or isolated environments where specific traits provide an evolutionary advantage.

Example of Self-Pollination

One of the most well-known examples of self-pollination occurs in the pea plant (Pisum sativum). Pea plants are frequently used to study genetic principles, famously by Gregor Mendel in his pioneering work on genetics. The structure and reproductive process of pea plants make them ideal for self-pollination.

How Self-Pollination Occurs in Pea Plants

Flower Structure: Pea plants produce flowers that are naturally adapted to self-pollinate. Typically, the petals of these flowers tightly enclose the reproductive parts, preventing other plants’ pollen from entering.

Pollination Mechanism: Inside these closed flowers, the anthers, which produce pollen, are positioned very close to or directly touch the stigma, the part of the flower that receives pollen. This proximity ensures that the anthers release pollen directly onto the stigma of the same flower.

Stages of Self-Pollination

Stages of Self-Pollination

Self-pollination is a form of pollination that occurs when pollen from the anther of a flower is deposited on the stigma of the same flower or another flower on the same plant. This process is common in plants that have mechanisms to facilitate or ensure pollination without the need for cross-pollination by other individuals, enhancing reproductive success in stable environments where cross-pollination partners are scarce.

1. Pollen Transfer

The first stage involves transferring pollen grains from the anther to the stigma of the same plant. This transfer can occur within the same flower or to another flower on the same plant. In some species, the anther positions itself directly above the stigma, making self-pollination more likely due to proximity.

2. Pollen Germination

Once pollen grains land on a compatible stigma, they germinate. This means the pollen grain grows a pollen tube that extends down the style towards the ovary.

3. Fertilization

Through the pollen tube, sperm cells from the pollen grain travel to the ovary where they fertilize the ovules. This fertilization results in the formation of seeds.

Types of Self-Pollinating Flowers

Self-pollinating flowers are designed to fertilize themselves, often without the need for external pollinators. This characteristic is especially prevalent in certain types of plants, which have evolved specific features to promote self-pollination. Here are some common types of self-pollinating flowers:

1. Cleistogamous Flowers

These flowers never open and are therefore always self-pollinated. They are found in species like some violets and grasses. Cleistogamous flowers ensure reproductive success without dependence on pollinators and external environmental conditions.

2. Pea Flowers

Flowers of the pea plant are a classic example of self-pollinating species. They have a structure that naturally promotes self-pollination by positioning the stigma close to the anthers, allowing pollen transfer within the same flower.

3. Tomato Flowers

Tomato flowers are equipped with structures that allow for easy self-pollination. The anthers form a cone around the stigma, trapping pollen to ensure it contacts the stigma without the need for wind or pollinators.

4. Beans

Beans, including species such as broad beans and runner beans, have flowers that facilitate self-pollination. The flowers are typically structured to optimize pollen transfer to the stigma of the same flower.

5. Wheat

Wheat flowers are another example where self-pollination is predominant. The flowers are generally closed, which prevents pollen from other plants entering and encourages self-pollination.

6. Barley

Like wheat, barley flowers mostly self-pollinate. Their floral arrangement limits the exposure of the stigma and anthers to external pollinators, favoring self-pollination.

Possible Long-Term Benefits of Meiosis in Self-Pollination

Meiosis is a fundamental process in sexual reproduction that results in the production of gametes with half the number of chromosomes of the parent cell. This reduction is crucial for maintaining the stability of the species’ chromosome number across generations when gametes fuse during fertilization. In the context of self-pollinating species, meiosis provides several long-term benefits despite the reduced genetic diversity typically associated with self-pollination:

1. Genetic Variation

Although self-pollination tends to decrease genetic variability, the process of meiosis can still introduce some level of genetic diversity. During meiosis, events such as crossing over (the exchange of genetic material between homologous chromosomes) and independent assortment (the random distribution of chromosomes to gametes) occur. These mechanisms can create new combinations of genes within the gametes of a single plant, even if the genes come from the same individual.

2. Adaptation and Evolution

The genetic variation generated by meiosis can lead to new traits that might offer a selective advantage under changing environmental conditions. Even minimal changes can significantly impact the fitness of a population, allowing it to adapt and evolve over time. This potential for adaptation is crucial for the survival of species in dynamic ecosystems.

3. Disease Resistance

Over generations, the subtle genetic variations produced by meiosis can contribute to increased disease resistance. This is particularly important for self-pollinating species, as their reduced gene pool can make them more susceptible to pathogens if not for the occasional introduction of new genetic combinations that confer resistance.

4. Stability of Genetic Traits

Meiosis in self-pollinating plants stabilizes beneficial traits within a population. Since self-pollination typically results in offspring genetically similar to the parent, it likely preserves and maintains beneficial adaptations across generations, ensuring the continuity of traits well-suited to specific environments.

5. Reduction of Harmful Alleles

The regular occurrence of meiosis can also help in purging deleterious alleles from the population over time. The process of segregation and independent assortment during meiosis can lead to gametes that do not carry harmful mutations, gradually reducing their frequency in the population.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Self-Pollination

Self-pollination is a significant reproductive strategy in many plants, offering both benefits and drawbacks depending on the ecological and environmental context. Here’s an in-depth look at the advantages and disadvantages of this process:

Advantages of Self-Pollination

  1. Guaranteed Reproductive Success:
    • Self-pollination ensures that a plant will reproduce successfully without the dependency on pollinators, which might be unpredictable or scarce in certain environments.
  2. Genetic Uniformity:
    • It preserves successful genetic traits from one generation to the next, as offspring are genetically identical to the parent. This uniformity is particularly beneficial in stable environments where the existing genetic makeup is well-suited for survival.
  3. Resource Efficiency:
    • Since the process doesn’t depend on attracting pollinators, self-pollinating plants can invest fewer resources in producing nectar, large flowers, or scents, leading to a more resource-efficient reproduction strategy.
  4. Increased Colonization Ability:
    • Plants capable of self-pollination can colonize and establish themselves in new and isolated areas more easily than those relying on cross-pollination. This ability is crucial for plants in fragmented habitats or those on the forefront of ecological succession.

Disadvantages of Self-Pollination

  1. Limited Genetic Diversity:
    • Since self-pollination involves the transfer of pollen within the same plant, it results in limited genetic variation. This reduced diversity can make plants more vulnerable to diseases and less adaptable to changes in environmental conditions.
  2. Inbreeding Depression:
    • Continuous self-pollination can lead to inbreeding depression, where harmful recessive traits become more prevalent over generations. This accumulation of deleterious alleles can result in reduced vitality and decreased survival and reproductive rates.
  3. Reduced Evolutionary Potential:
    • Limited genetic variation means that self-pollinating species may have reduced evolutionary potential to respond to natural selection. In rapidly changing environments, these species might be at a disadvantage compared to those with greater genetic variability achieved through cross-pollination.
  4. Risk of Extinction:
    • In extreme environmental changes, the lack of genetic diversity can increase the risk of extinction, as the entire population might be equally susceptible to specific threats like pathogens or climate changes.


What Is Self-Pollination?

Self-pollination occurs when a flower’s pollen fertilizes itself or another flower on the same plant, enabling reproduction without external pollen sources.

What Are Examples of Self-Pollination?

Common self-pollinating plants include tomatoes, peas, wheat, barley, chickpeas, and lettuce, each adapted to reliably produce seeds independently.

What Is Self and Cross Pollination?

Self-pollination involves a single plant’s flowers fertilizing themselves, while cross-pollination occurs between flowers of different plants, enhancing genetic diversity.

How Do You Self-Pollinate?

To self-pollinate, gently shake or brush the flower to transfer pollen from the anthers to the stigma within the same flower or to another flower on the same plant.

Can You Pollinate a Plant With Itself?

Yes, you can pollinate a plant with itself either naturally through its flower structure or manually by transferring pollen to its own stigma to produce seeds.

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