Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pollen handling and storage

Most hybridizers have their own personalized technique when it comes to collecting and storing pollen, and I'm no exception. Let me describe what I do.

The container shown here is a Watchmaker's Case sold by Lee Valley Tools (Item G. on the page at this URL), and this particular size is the 53mm, which comes in an aluminum carrying case holding 15 of the "jars". This particular set costs $11.20 plus shipping and they last indefinitely if cared for.

Many people like to reuse containers they already have, which is a fine idea. (Baby Food jars are good, film canisters less so.) However, I have been using these Watchmaker's cases for years and find them to be an ideal tool for the job. As you can see, the pollen sticks to the inside glass of the lid and is easily seen. Any glass container is useful for this same reason but I like the fact that I can carry three boxes of fifteen jars (for a total of 45) and have pretty much every pollen I need available to me at that moment.

I gave up using brushes years ago, favoring my fingertips instead, which only require a quick wipe on my shirt to clean before changing pollen. The pollen is very easily taken from the inside of the glass lid of the watchmaker's case for application to the desired stigma(s). If I am done with a particular pollen for the year, I can wash the case and relabel it to collect a new pollen if I want. These are reusable year after year and well worth the initial investment. They are extremely convenient and compact, and provide what I regard as the ideal environment for collecting and storing pollen. Oh, and I also collect pollen in the Fall and dry it in these containers and then into a Ziploc bag in the freezer for use the following Spring. What could be better?!


  1. Thanks for the refresher Paul. I have been wanting to get some of the watchmakers cases. I think I will invest in a couple sets.

  2. Hi paul,

    Of that pollen... how much would you actually use per pollination. I do exactly as you do and use small jars like this to collect the pollen and shake the jars around to release more pollen etc and then I tend to go overboard swooshing my finger through the pollen and really loading it up and piling it on the stigma (because I do so few pollinations so far... increasing every year though.. hence the question). So I was wondering just how far the pollen actually goes? If I really load my finger up with pollen how many pollinations do you think I could do at once if there were multiple emasculated flowers previously prepared?

  3. Hi, Paul,

    I came upon the same technique, but quite independently and in a very odd way...

    I was looking through the Micro-Mark catalog one day and saw a set of those cases as "glass-covered containers." (Micro-Mark still sells them.) I immediately knew what they were -- rose pollen collecting tins! Trouble was, I had no idea how I knew. But I _knew._ And I've been using these for several years now.

    Then, last year, I had occasion to buy a set of kids' encyclopedias that I had as a ten-year old. Needless to say, I hadn't seen them for forty-odd years, but I loved them and used to read them from end to end. Well, I got a new set and picked up H, and there, on the page about Hybridizing, was an illustration How To Hybridize a Rose, and in part of it, the hybridizer is holding exactly that little container!! Somehow or other, somewhere in the back of my brain, that image had been stored and ready all that time!

    Which only goes to show, I guess, that you should be really careful what you say around kids; you never know what they'll retain!

    But these cases are really great!

    The only difference in technique I have is that rather than putting pollen on my finger, I just shake the case until there's pollen on the glass, then use the glass top to apply pollen. This way I can see (through the glass) exactly how much pollen is going on, and whether it's sticking properly. It also keeps me from accidently touching my face with a pollen covered finger, as I am massively allergic to pollen...

  4. Simon,
    Actually, I don't much think about how much pollen goes on to each bloom as long as I know some went on. Now, I will preface that by saying that if its something I have very little pollen of, I will be very sparing with it and put on only as much as I think it will take to get a few grains on every stigma. You can get away with using surprisingly little pollen. If its like 'Reve d'Or', as in the photo, I just smear great gobs of it on, knowing I have more than I need to go around.

    You know, I just realized that I have no recollection of how I came to be familiar with the Watchmaker's cases and their application in my work! No clue. All I know is that a few years ago I went to Lee Valley online and order 'em!

    Oh yeah, and I am dramatically allergic to rose pollen also, but that doesn't stop me using my fingers to apply it! I have just learned not to touch my face while I'm working, and to wash my hands when I am done. Having stuck a pollen coated finger in the corner of my eye once or twice, I quickly learned NOT to do that. Heh.