The birds and the bees, pumpkin style

Once upon a time, there was a baby pumpkin plant.

Baby is so little, she needs propping up in a Bumbo.

This baby plant was brought home with great excitement by my son, who had planted the pumpkin seed himself in kindergarten. In the beginning, we greeted each new leaf with joy and amazement.

And then the pumpkin plant consumed our garden.

(Okay, I’ll admit it didn’t consume the WHOLE garden, just about a third of it, but that’s only because I trimmed it back. Unfettered, it would consume the entire Finger Lakes region, surely….)

Back to the story. The pumpkin plant grew and grew, and made flowers and more flowers, but no pumpkins. I was utterly bewildered. We have bees. We have other insects that buzz from flower to flower. Why wasn’t our pumpkin plant making babies?

And then I did some research and realized that pumpkin plants can be a bit shy and may need a little help in matters of the heart. First of all, you have to recognize that a pumpkin plant has male flowers and female flowers. The male flowers arrive first at the dance and stand about awkwardly, waiting for the females to arrive.

Where are all the girls?

If you look closely at a male flower, you’ll see that he’s, um, a little happy to be here.

It’s hard to tell in the picture, but he is standing to attention…

After a long long wait, the female flowers finally show up to the dance. You can tell the girls from the boys in two ways. First of all, the girls have hips, the boys do not.

Female: check out the childbearing hips on this one!

Male: no hips

The difference is even clearer when you look inside. The male flower has a single stamen that, ahem, stands to attention. The female flower has a pistil with several lobes. In my garden, the bees go nuts over the female flowers and show less attention to the males. (I don’t know why–the males are the ones producing the pollen!)

male flower inside: stamen

female flower inside: multi-lobed pistil

Now, if you’re lucky, the bees will do all the work for you. I wasn’t about to leave this to chance, so I gave nature a hand. Here’s an image of fertility treatment in progress (avert the eyes of the young):

To do this, I picked a male flower and removed the petals to expose the stamen, then rubbed it all over each lobe of the pistil to make sure pollination took place. As an added measure, I left the stamen there, so that any bees or other insects that might crawl around inside would continue to pollinate this flower until the flower closes up.

So, yesterday I helped pollinate a female flower, and today, we have an expectant mother!

She just conceived yesterday, and already she’s showing.

Now comes the hardest part—the long wait…

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4 Responses to “The birds and the bees, pumpkin style”

  1. Thank you so much for this information. We just planted some pumpkins in our garden and had no idea about the male/female blooms. I will probably also perform some IVF to help nature along. That’s a great idea! I’m new to this whole gardening thing and have found it to be a very educational experience (both for me and my 4 year old who the garden was intended for)! Thanks again for enlightening me!

  2. Ha ha, thanks for the tip. My little one also suprised me with a tiny pumpkin plant from school, and I had NO IDEA where to plant such an exciting accomplishment. The only place left to give it a home is along the back yard fence between the peonies and the wild raspberries, which is quite shady most of the day (only 3 hours of direct sunlight), . I’m sure by seeing your photo, it will meander out into the middle of the yard amongst the clover to get more access to the sun.

    Good thing, too, as the middle of the back yard is a bit boring.

  3. Wilma Abbazia Says:

    Hey, that’s pretty cool! I’m planting pumpkins this year, and I hope that they’ll still grow even if I don’t fertilize the females with the male’s pollen. I haven’t seen any bees out there yet, so I think I’ll only fertilize a few females.

  4. My friend just posted a link to this post and its the funniest guide to pollination I’ve seen! Love it!

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