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Fruit Trees 101: Pollination

Meredith Gaines — May 03, 2023

Ready to talk about the birds and the bees? No, literally! There are very few things in this world that match the significance of pollination and the role it plays in your life, whether you’re aware of it or not. Pollination occurs so seamlessly in nature that it's easy to miss, but to ignore it completely when trying to grow your own fruit would be a shame.

To put into perspective how important the process of pollination is, imagine a world where no more babies were born. In plant terms, if you stop pollination, you essentially stop the creation of new life. 

Need to skip ahead? Use the links below to jump to a specific section!

Simply put, pollination is the process of sexual reproduction by which a seed or fruit is made. No pollination means no fruit, no flowers and no life. The world as we know it exists thanks to pollination, and it's well worth your time to make sure you get it right when growing your own fruit. However, pollination can be complicated and difficult to understand when you don't know the basics of the process. Keep reading to learn and master all things fruit tree pollination!

How the Pollination Process Works

Pollination is the process by which pollen is transferred from one flower to another, resulting in a fruit or seed being made. Of course, there’s more to this process than just a pollen grain transfer, so let's start with the parts that need to be present for everything to happen. 

Flower Anatomy

Just like other living things that sexually reproduce, there are male and female parts and parts that are universal that help this whole process occur.

The female parts of the flower are collectively called the “pistil”. The pistil is comprised of the stigma, style and ovary that work together to transfer the pollen from the top of the stigma, down the style to the ovary, which has the ovule (aka. the egg) that gets fertilized. 

The ovary, once fertilized, swells and grows into your fruit with a thick barrier around it to project the precious seed inside. Think of an apple with seeds at the core. 

The male parts of the flower are collectively called the “stamen”. The stamen is comprised of filaments, anthers and pollen grains. The filaments hold up the anther, which is where the pollen grains are made and released to the world in hopes of finding the female counterpart. 

Since pollen has to go on a journey, there’s a LOT of pollen produced (hence, why your car turns yellow in spring) and it's built to be indestructible, so much so that there are millions of fossilized pollen grains that have survived the test of time. 

Other, but equally important parts of the flower that help pollination along are the petals and bracts. The botanical term for petals is “corolla” and is what you’re most likely already familiar with. Bracts are modified leaves that surround the flower. In some flowers, the actual petals are so small that the bracts are colored and attract the pollinators instead.

parts of a flower

Some examples of showy bracts acting as flowers can be found on the poinsettia, hydrangea, and bougainvillea plants, which is why they last so long. The “petals” are actually colorful leaves. The design, shape and color of the petals and bracts are specific and intentional to the pollinator it wants to attract, but we’ll touch more on that later.

Pollination in a Nutshell

Here’s how the general process works for all flowers:

  1. Flower opens, releases pollen from the male anther and attracts pollinators with its colors, shape and smell
  2. The desired pollinator visits the flower and gathers pollen
  3. The pollen is spread by the pollinator visiting different flowers and different trees.
  4. When the pollen grain connects with the female stigma, the flower is fertilized
  5. The petals will fall off the flower and the fruit will start to grow. 
flower pollination

Nature has the process of pollination down to a science, from dropping its petals when a pollinator is no longer needed, to creating enough reward for pollinators to visit their flowers. There are thousands of variations of this process that exist, but you just need to know that all parts of the flower must be present for it to occur and that the pollen must genetically match the flower it pollinates with to produce fruit. 

Helpful Pollinator Terms to Know

Since pollination can be complex, here are some popular terms you might see and what they mean:


Self pollination occurs when the pollen from one flower can fertilize itself, either the exact same flower or another flower located on the same tree. 

Bee near a flower, illustrating the self-pollination process.

Cross Pollination

Cross pollination is when pollen from a separate flower fertilizes a flower on a completely different tree. For some fruits you have to have this to happen to get the fruit. 


Translates to “two-houses” and is the category of plants that have separate male and female cultivars of plants. 


Translates to “one-house” and is the category of plants that have male and female flowers on the same tree

Not all Flowers and Trees are Built the Same

Of course, when it comes to something so diverse as plants you can’t expect them to all operate the same way. There are some plants that are only female, others that are both and some that even change! To help navigate which is which, here are the categories of plants and which kinds of fruits belong to them. 

Kinds of Flowers

There are three main types of flowers that exist:

  1. Male-only flowers with male-only reproductive parts
  2. Female-only flowers with female-only reproductive parts
  3. A “perfect” flower that contains both male and female parts

Kinds of Trees Based on the Flowers They Have 

To make things even more complicated, these three types of flowers can be arranged differently depending on the tree. This might be mind blowing if you just learned that plants are male and female, so look at the chart below to see which fruits fall into which category to take the guesswork out of it!

Tree Type

Example Fruit Trees

Perfect flowers only (flowers that have both male and female parts)

Apples, pears, peaches, plums, figs, mangoes, cherries, citrus

Female flowers and male flowers are separate but on the same tree

Avocados, pomegranates 

Female flowers only on one tree

Papayas, kiwis, mulberries, grapes

Male flowers only on one tree



Most of your fruit trees will have perfect flowers on one tree, so that you have male and female parts in every flower. However, there are occasionally some like kiwis where you will need both male and female kiwi plants to see any fruit. Fruits that have separate male and female flowers on the same trees, like avocados and pomegranates, do well with hand pollination to make sure pollen gets around equally. 

Successful Pollination

As you can see, pollination can be quite complex, but when you break it down you really just need male parts, female parts and compatible pollen. Just because your tree has male and female flowers on the same tree or perfect flowers doesn’t mean you’ll get fruit with one tree - some trees need to be cross pollinated. 

Bee pollinating between two flowering trees.

You can always check if you need a pollinator by looking at the “pollination tab” of a variety on our website or by visiting your local extension website to find more detailed information about the pollination requirements for your trees. Most fruits will have male and female flowers on the same one, but in the case like a kiwi, just make sure you have room for two! 

Meet the Pollinators

No pollinators means no fruit, so next time you see any of the pollinators listed below, make sure to say thank you!


Insects are the most well-known and common pollinators and carry out the process of fertilizing plants. Some common insects that you might recognize include bees, wasps, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, ants, flies, and beetles.

bee pollinating fruit


Insects are not the only pollinators out there. Some plants rely on animals like birds for fertilization. Common pollinators in this category are hummingbirds, bats and songbirds.


The wind can be a mighty thing, and some trees use it to their advantage to get pollinated. A good example is a walnut or chestnut tree that has long, tassel-like flowers that sway in the wind and disperse pollen in the air. This is often the reason for seasonal allergies too!


Water is used by the plant to grow but also reproduce. Plants that grow near or in water may use it as a mode of transportation to spread and travel from flower to flower.

How Flowers Match the Pollinator

Not all flowers are attractive or even smell nice. Flowers exist for function, not beauty. By knowing what kind of flowers you have in your garden, you can match them to their pollinators! Check out our list of pollinators below and the plants they’re attracted to.

  • Moths: Big white flowers that open during the night will draw in moths. The white reflects the moonlight, attracting the moths and it opens at nighttime when moths are most active.
  • Flies: Dark brown and red flowers that smell like rotting meat will attract flies. Fruits like the pawpaw and even the cocoa depend on them.
  • Hummingbirds: These birds typically flock to orange or red flowers that have a trumpet shape for their beaks to fit into. 
  • Bees: Large, showy flowers with bright colors and sweet scents attract bees. Most fruit trees will be pollinated by them. 
  • Beatles: These are very primitive pollinators before bees and butterflies were around. They’re not the most graceful, so most flowers that are beetle-pollinated will be cupped or bowl-shaped with shallow pollen. Think of a magnolia flower.
  • Wind: Long, tassel-shaped flowers called catkins hang down and sway in the wind, dispersing their pollen to the sometimes sticky female flower close by. This is a popular style you’ll see with nut trees.
  • Butterflies: These flying friends aren’t as efficient as bees due to the shape of their bodies. However, they can maneuver much better than your average bumblebee, making slender, tube-like flowers that hang at different angles perfect for them. 

hummingbird on fruit tree

Tips on How to be Pollinator-Friendly

1. Don't Blindly Spray

There are many chemicals and sprays you can use to control pests like mosquitoes and wasps, but did you know that the same sprays might be killing off your bees, as well? To avoid this, read the label! Make sure you know what you’re putting in your environment to avoid unintentionally killing off pollinators. Also, only spray if you absolutely must - many times you can combat pests using natural alternatives (i.e. citronella repelling mosquitoes).

2. Support Their Life Cycle

Insects like butterflies feed on milkweeds, lay eggs under the leaves, then have to survive being a caterpillar long enough to transform into a butterfly. If you want butterflies to stay close by, do more than just plant milkweed - keep an eye out in your garden for hidden eggs or caterpillars and avoid cutting your garden back hard or too soon to provide them a safe space.

3. Let Mother Nature Take its Course

Nature is oftentimes messy and fallen leaves, grass clippings or plants that die back may mess up your perfect lines, but learn to embrace the mess! One of the best things you can do for your backyard pollinators is letting nature take the lead. Consider dedicating part of your landscape to nature - don't rake up all the leaves and debri and let the wildflowers grow and naturally die back. Sure you might lose some of the manicured look in that area, but your pollinators will thrive! 

Next time you’re in your garden and see a pollinator buzz by, make sure to thank them for their service! Without all of these hardworking friends, we wouldn’t be able to live life as we know it and your fruit trees wouldn’t exist. Make your yard a hospitable place for pollinators, and you’ll be well on your way to hefty harvests of your favorite fruits!

How to “Bee” the Pollinator

We're guessing you have plants—but not a bee hive—in your house. In cases of indoor fruit trees or trees (like tropical plants) without their natural pollinator present, you might need to step in and hand-pollinate. This will ensure that pollen is spreading and increase your chance of yielding fruit!

How to hand-pollinate flowers:

  1. Locate an open flower and look for the yellow pollen! Remember, some flowers are male and female so check multiple to locate where it is. 
  2. Grab a small tool like a cotton swab, a small paintbrush, or even your finger. 
  3. Take your tool and gently collect the pollen and swirl it around the flowers. If you have multiple plants, go from plant to plant. FGT Pro Tip: Think like a bee! Be gentle and try to visit each flower to ensure you don’t miss any.
  4. Continue doing this process every couple of days until the tree is no longer blooming. 

Pollination for Tropical Fruits

Even your tropical fruits can grow among your more “traditional” orchard fruits like apples and peaches. The tropical fruits we're talking about include ones that go beyond the borders of North America and grow in other climates all over the world. 

The great thing about plants is that they are adaptable, but some of these tropical types may require special care to produce fruit. To help, here are some of our top topicals with some tips on pollination. 


Pollination Details 

Our Suggestion to Get Fruit


Bananas can be grown for fruit or ornamentally (meaning just for beauty). Before choosing make sure you have a fruit-producing banana. Some ornamental bananas will have fruit but the bananas will taste bad and be of poor quality. 

Self-pollinating, you only need one to get fruit. 

Let nature do the work. 

Bananas only produce one harvest per stock. So be prepared that after harvest for the entire plant to die back to the ground only to completely re-grow the next season. 


Flowers contain both male and female parts in the same flower. Depending on the variety they can flower starting in winter through spring. 

Self-pollinating, you only need one to get fruit.

Let nature do the work. 

Local insects will be enough to get some mango fruits. After pollination, expect to wait around 2-5 months to harvest fruits in spring and summer. 


Papayas come in male and female trees (separate) and can also come on the same tree (hybrids). They have flowers that open at night that are pollinated by the wind or insects. 

Check your variety to see if you need a partner for pollination. There are several hybrids that are self-fertile that can produce fruit on its own. Hybrids are the most commonly sold and grown.

Let nature do the work. 

Interestingly male and female papayas can produce fruit but the females have the tastier and larger fruits. Male flowers are grouped together while female flowers will stand alone. 

Dragon Fruit

Bats are the main pollinators here as the flowers open at night and don’t last long. You will know a flower is about to open within a day when you start to see the thin petals separate. 

Self-pollinating, you only need one to get fruit. 

Hand pollinate and let nature do its work. 

When you see a flower bud be quick to act as they open and close fast. Wait till it gets dark for them to open up to get to the pollen. To help the bats not be confused turn the outside lights off and supply a bat house (similar to a bird house) to keep your pollinators close by. 


Tamarind flowers resemble orchid flowers but on a tree! They are pollinated by a variety of insects. 

Self-pollinating, you only need one to get fruit. 

Let nature do the work. 

The flowers have nectar and attract all kinds of insects like bees, wasps, butterflies and ants. Most of the pollination work will be done by bees. The flowers will turn into delicious pods in around two to three months after pollination. Good tasting fruit is worth the wait! 


They are very similar and closely related to the Lychee. Once a flower is pollinated it is quick to start turning into fruit. Many insects will visit the tree but the most common pollinator is the bee.  

Self-pollinating, you only need one to get fruit. 

Let nature do the work. 

It is very common for longans not to produce a harvest every year or the same year to year. This is not due to lack of pollination, it is just how to tree behaves and is strongly influenced by the weather. For example, heavy rains reduce pollination rates. 


Not all the flowers will flower at the same time, meaning you might have flowers in different stages on the same tree. Male and female flowers are separate on the same tree. 

Self-pollinating, you only need one to get fruit. 

Let nature do the work. 

Bees will do most of the work pollianting your lychee. To help fruit production plant a second tree of the same variety nearby.

Passion Fruit

The pollen of the passion fruit is known to be sticky so the wind will not be able to help and most of the work is done by bees. 

Self-pollinating, you only need one vine to get fruit. 

Note: yellow passion fruits need another yellow passion fruit variety to cross pollinate with. (both of our varieties are self-fertile) 

Let nature do the work. 

Encourage bees to help pollinate your vine by planting bee-attracting plants nearby.

Also, drooping branches are the most likely to flower, so dont trellis your passion fruit vine too tightly. 

Soursop ‘Guanabana’

The flowers will first open as female flowers then the next day as male flowers. Beetles naturally pollinate them in their native range but bees also can help pollinate as well. 

Self-Pollinating, you only need one tree to get fruit. 

Help outdoor trees out and hand pollinate them. 

Because the flowers switch sexes the timing has to be right. We recommend hand pollinating your tree back-to-back days during the hours of 2-5 pm as that is when the flowers are most open. Be sure to alternate and go back and forth between many flowers to get both male and female flowers. 


Both the seeds and the leaves are known to be harvested from this tree. 

Self-pollinating, you only need one tree to get fruit. 

Let nature do the work. 

Mature pods that are full-sized are not edible, only when they are younger or around 6 inches in length can they be eaten. Research well before consuming. 


They are native to Central America. 

Self-pollinating, you only need one tree to get fruit. 

Help outdoor trees out and hand pollinate them. 

The flowers look like little green-white bells that hang downwards under the leaves. When the “bell” or flower opens it is ready to be pollinated. 


Separate male and female flowers are on the same tree, bloom in December- March and take 5-6 months to develop into fruits.

Self-pollinating, you only need one tree to get fruit.

Let nature do the work. 

Large fruits take time so dont be disheartened about flower petals or male flowers falling off, as long as you have part of the flower on the tree you have the possibility of fruit. 


While it may grow in cooler areas you need warm summers to get the flowers and fruit ideally in zones 8-10

Self-pollinating, you only need one plant to get fruit. 

Let nature do the work.

Not all flowers will turn into fruits and some will prune off flowers to get more fruits on more mature plants. 


The natural pollinator is a very small mosquito insect called a midge. 

You need two separate cocoa trees in order to get fruit. They can be the same kind.

Hand pollination is best. 

Cacao flowers hide their pollen under their petals. Use a small paintbrush to gather the pollen and swirl it in the center top of the flowers. 

Pollination Checker

Even with all this knowledge, we understand that pollination can still be tricky. Check out our new pollination checker to help you determine that you have a good pollinating pair.

To keep learning, check out the rest of our Fruit Trees 101 Course, filled with all the sweet tips you need to create your backyard orchard!

    Meredith Gaines

    Meredith's love for plants started at a young age, and only grew when she started working in the Desert Exhibit at the South Carolina Botanical Gardens and the Historic Filoli Estate in the Bay Area. After graduating from Clemson University (GO TIGERS!) with a degree in Biology and Horticulture, she found her niche in the FastGrowingTrees.com family as a horticulturist and has grown in her current role as Senior Plant Expert.

    She currently resides in her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, and enjoys spending any time she can outdoors. She learns new things about plants every day and loves sharing her plant knowledge and tips with those around her. Her favorite plant is constantly changing, but her long-time favorites are peonies, oak trees, and ferns.

    Questions? Contact Meredith at information@fastgrowingtrees.com.

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