Pollination Disorders in Cucurbits

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist; gcjohn@udel.edu

Watermelon harvest is underway on Delmarva; cantaloupe harvest started early this year, squash and cucumbers have been producing for over a month; and pumpkins and winter squash are setting fruit in earlier plantings. Each year, we see pollination problems with vine crop fruits, especially when weather conditions are unfavorable.

Signs of incomplete pollination in cucurbits include bottlenecked fruit or fruit with a pinched end, crooked or lopsided fruit, fruit small in size or nub-like; and fruits with prominent lobes or that are triangular in shape. Causes of incomplete pollination may be inadequate pollen transfer by pollinating insects; inadequate pollen sources (pollenizers); or hot, dry weather that reduces pollen viability or that desiccates flower parts during pollination. Research has shown that a minimum of 1,000 grains of pollen are required to be distributed over the three lobes of the stigma of the female flower of a watermelon to produce a uniformly shaped fruit.

Hollow cavities in fruit and vacant seed cavities are related to lack of seed formation, again traced back to poor pollination. Fruit tissue separation, such as hollow heart in watermelon, may also be due to inadequate pollination and may be worsened by rapid fluctuation in environmental conditions affecting fruit development.

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