How To Identify Male & Female Cucumber Flowers And Why It Matters

If this is your first time growing cucumbers in your garden, you'll want to know a little about how they grow so you can get a bumper crop. Most cucumber plants will have two different types of flowers — male and female. The basic difference between these two types is that the female flowers have tiny cucumber fruits at the base while male flowers only have a thin stem or stalk and contain pollen. These components have different functions and both are essential for a good harvest. 

The female flowers produce the fruit and the male flowers produce the pollen necessary for fertilization. So if you find that your tiny fruits are just shriveling up and not growing into delicious crisp and crunchy cucumbers, then it can also help to learn how to bring more pollinators into your yard or consider hand pollinating instead. Here's how to identify male and female cucumber flowers on your plants.

How to spot the difference between male and female cucumber flowers

Spotting the difference between male and female cucumber flowers is really easy. When you first see the flowers on your plant, you'll notice some have a small bulge at the base that looks very much like a tiny baby cucumber. These are the female flowers. You'll also see other flowers that only have a stem or stalk at the base without any visible bulge, which are male. 

You can take a closer look at each flower — you might need a magnifying glass for this — to confirm your identification. Inside the female flower, you'll see a thin filament protruding from the center with small growths at the tip. These growths are known as stigmas and are usually sticky or fuzzy to allow the pollen to adhere to them. The filament is known as a style and is actually a thin tube that the pollen travels down to get to the ovary which is at the base of the style. The reproductive system of the female flower is collectively known as the pistil.

Looking inside the male cucumber flowers, you're going to see small rounded puff balls that are covered with yellow dust. These are the anthers and the yellow dust is the pollen. The anthers are connected to the interior base of the flower by a thin filament. The pollen-producing system of a male flower is known as the stamen.

How does pollination happen?

For pollination to occur, the pollen needs to be moved from the stamen of the male flower onto the pistil of the female flower. Once the pollen is deposited onto the female flower, it moves down into the ovary to complete the fertilization process. In the garden, pollination is usually done by bees and other flying insects. That's why cucumbers and marigolds are the perfect companions because the marigolds will help to attract pollinators to your garden.

Cucumbers are commonly pollinated by honey bees and stingless bees in the U.S., but cucumbers grown in greenhouses are pollinated either by bumble bees or by hand. Pollinating cucumbers by hand is quite easy and can be the perfect solution if there's a lack of natural pollinators in your garden.

All you have to do is grab a Q-tip or a fine paintbrush and swirl it around inside the male flower to grab some of the pollen. Once you have some pollen on your Q-tip or paintbrush, you just need to rub this off onto the female flower. Make sure that you're gentle when you do this so that you don't damage the flower or accidentally break it off. You might also be interested in how many cucumbers can come from one plant by growing them on a trellis and providing perfect conditions for optimum growth.