Plant Sex Ed 101

All living things were designed to reproduce.

As the physical aspects of living cells age, they eventually die. Without the means of reproduction, extinction is imminent.

Then God said,
“Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”;
and it was so.
Genesis 1:11 (NKJV)

We all know that humans and animals come in two genders, male and female, and can only reproduce due to their sexual biology. But did you know that plants also have this quality? Plants reproduce via ‘sexual’ reproduction also, through their flowers. “Flowers contain reproductive structures and cells”. On that note, some plants are female, some plants are male, and some plants contain both male and female structures. The female and male parts of a plant are the key elements in pollination and harvesting, and ultimately in reseeding. Understanding how vegetable plants’ reproduction works can help when it comes time to harvest.

What are the parts of the male and the female flowers?

The male parts include the filament and anther, which together are called the stamen.
The stamen produces the pollen.

Female plants consist of the style, the stigma, and the ovary at the base of the flower.
The ovary becomes the fruit.

There are two very distinct types of plants: Monoecious and Dioecious

Monoecious Plants

These have both male and female flower parts on a single plant.


Some plants have both male and female structures in each flower. These plants can pollinate themselves, they have no need for pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and wasps (although pollinators will visit these flowers and carry pollen from plant to plant).

Many common vegetable plants, such as beans, peas, tomatoes, and peppers, will self-pollinate. This means you’re more than likely to get a crop without the aid of pollinators.


Other plants have flowers that have male and female structures in separate flowers, each of these plants contains both male and female flowers. These plants require pollinators to transfer pollen in order to produce fruits. The most common of these plants belong to the ‘cucurbit’ family which includes pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, and melons.

Multiple pollinators visiting a single female flower result in large, well-shaped fruit. Pesticides that kill pollinators and barriers that prevent pollinators from accessing the flowers—such as closed greenhouses or row covers—result in plants that do not produce fruit.

Dioecious Plants

Plants that produce only male or only female flowers on a single plant. In other words, each plant is a separate ‘sex’ – a male plant, a female plant. These are also cross-pollinators and require aid in the process.

When it comes to veggies, dioecious plants are fairly uncommon. A couple of examples are asparagus and spinach. However, some hybrid cucumbers have separate male and female plants, too.

If you choose one of these varieties for your food source, plant enough seeds to ensure you get both female and male plants and make sure you have many pollinators.

Pollination when there are no pollinators

There are several regions and other reasons for there not being pollinators. If you live in cold climates and/or use greenhouses, you won’t have the pollinators you need to produce ‘fruit’. Hand pollination is then required.

The first task in the process is to identify the male and female flowers.

The second task is to hand-pollinate.

  • Using a feather, a cotton ball, or even a soft paintbrush (made with horse or camel hair if possible), gently tickle the male plant’s stamen to collect pollen, then gently tickle the female’s carpel with the pollen-covered item.

The third task is to make sure to keep your plants watered and that they have a good source of beneficial lighting.

Before you know it, you’ll be harvesting the fruits of your labor.

Once you’ve harvested and you’re ready to eat, remember to save those seeds. Keep them cool and dry until next year’s sowing time (in an airtight jar in the refrigerator is best).

Hope you found this tidbit of information beneficial.


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