Influence of Honey Bee Pollination on Triploid Watermelon Fruit Set and Quality

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  • 1 Southern Illinois University, Plant, Soil, and Agricultural Systems, Carbondale, IL 62901-4415

Cucurbit vegetable crops, such as watermelon (Citrullus lanatus), require insect pollination for fruit set, which is usually achieved by placing honey bee (Apismellifera) colonies in a field or relying upon natural bee populations. Pistillate (or female) watermelon flowers require multiple honey bee (or other bee) visitations after visiting staminate (or male) flowers for fruit set, and pollination is even more of a concern in triploid watermelon production since staminate flowers contain mostly nonviable pollen. Six honey bee visitation treatments, 1) no visitation control, 2) two visits, 3) four visits, 4) eight visits, 5) 16 visits, and 6) open-pollinated control, were evaluated to determine the effect of honey bee pollination on `Millionaire' triploid watermelon fruit set, yield, and quality utilizing `Crimson Sweet' at a 33% pollinizer frequency. No differences (P> 0.05) between honey bee pollination treatments were observed for `Millionaire' quality characters (hollow heart disorder or percent soluble solids). The lowest pistillate flower abortion rate (20%) and subsequently the greatest triploid watermelon yields (fruit numbers and weights per hectare) occurred with the openpollinated control compared to all other honey bee visitation treatments. Fruit abortion rates decreased linearly, while fruit numbers and weights per hectare increased linearly as number of honey bee visits to pistillate flowers increased from 0 (no visit control) to the open-pollinated control (≈24 visits). This study indicated that >16 honey bee visits are required to achieve maximum triploid watermelon fruit set and yields, which is twice the number of honey bee visits required by diploid watermelons to achieve similar results.

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