Tag Archives: hand pollination

Zucchini Flowers, Leaves, and Bees

3 Jul

Yes, it’s that time of year, a time when you realize you planted way too much zucchini. I have only one zucchini plant in the garden (not having much space for vegetables to begin with) — yet I find myself asking, how can one plant produce that much? And it’s barely gotten started.

Luckily, I love zucchini and am already thinking about what to do with my harvest. However, this post is not about cooking. It is about the plant itself, from flower to leaf. If you grow zucchini, you probably quite enjoy seeing the zucchini flowers/blossoms/blooms. I usually look at them and imagine them stuffed with a nice cheese, dipped in a light batter, and gently fried….heavenly! Some say the male flowers (which grow at the end of long stems, unlike female flowers, which grow at the end of the emerging zucchini) are the best for eating; I’ll happily sample either one. The flowers can also be eaten raw, sliced into salads or other dishes.

But I digress. My intention was to write about the plant–as a plant, not as a source of food. A couple of days ago, I was checking the status of the zucchini and was startled to see a fully open flower. I almost never see an open flower, which makes sense since they are only open for one day and usually from morning to early afternoon (when I am at work, or not paying sufficient attention). In order for any zucchini to be produced, bees must take advantage of this small window of opportunity and do their part by carrying pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers. [Ok, I have to digress again to show a completely unrelated photo of a friend’s beehive since I don’t have a photo of a bee on my zucchini flowers–and yes, honey bees are excellent pollinators of zucchini and many other fruits and vegetables. Go bees!]

Some of my baby zucchini seemed to wither on the stems and drop off before they even got going. I wondered if this was due to all the rain we’ve been having (or even worse, if it could possibly be the fault of our male dog–despite the barricades I erected). Luckily, I discovered it’s because the female flower didn’t get quite enough pollen from the male. Gardeners wishing to help the process along can try to hand pollinate by carefully removing the anther from the male flower and dabbing it onto the stigma of the open female flower (or by using cotton swabs to transfer the pollen). In my case, with plenty of zucchini already harvested and more to come, I may need to start tying all those flowers closed!

Here is a photo of a lovely, open zucchini flower (looks male)…

… and of another part of the plant that rarely gets mentioned: the leaf. I really like the way the leaves look, and I particularly like the downward angle in this photo. But zucchini leaves are a force of nature. They are so big and so prolific that they keep taking over the small space I allocated to the zucchini plant, and I have had to prune them several times. I felt guilty cutting them off at first, but then I learned that judicious pruning lets more light in and can help increase zucchini production. Wait–is that a plus?