Pollination and Plant Reproductive Success of Two Ploidy Levels in Red Clover (Trifolium pratense L.)

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Plant reproduction in red clover requires cross-fertilization via insect pollination. However, the influences of visitation rate and timing on maximizing ovule utilization are yet to be determined. We aimed to study the influences of visitation rate, flowering stage, and self-incompatibility on reproductive success. We applied hand and honey bee pollination in the study of eight red clover cultivars with two ploidy levels released between 1964 and 2001. In hand pollination, increasing the visitation rates (from 10 to 80 pollinated florets per flower head) increased the seed number per flower head but reduced the seed number per pollinated floret. Different flowering stages (early, middle, and full flowering) did not influence the seed number per pollinated floret significantly. There was a marked difference in reproductive success depending on the ploidy level, with 0.52 seeds per pollinated floret in diploid and 0.16 in tetraploid cultivars. During the cultivar release history, seed number per pollinated floret seemed to decrease in diploid cultivars, whereas it increased in tetraploids. In honey bee pollination, diploid cultivars had more two-seeded florets than tetraploids. Different visitation rates and the stochastic nature of pollen transfer resulted in difficulties when the plant reproductive success between hand and bee pollination was compared. A maximum of 0.27 seeds per pollinated floret were produced in hand pollination compared to the 0.34 in honey bee pollination. In spite of this, hand pollination provided a valuable method for studying the pollination biology and reproduction of red clover. Future studies may employ hand pollination to unravel further aspects of the low reproductive success with the future perspective of improving seed number per pollinated floret in tetraploid red clover.