Lucern flowers range from completely self-sterile to completely self-fertile, however, relatively low quantities of self pollinated flowers form seed pods. Flowers require a mechanical tripping to release the pollen. This can occur spontaneously when environmental conditions are suitable, but generally requires the activity of a pollinator such as a bumblebee. The sexual components of the flower snap out and collide with the head of the bee, transferring pollen to the bee, and from the bee to the stigma (♀) of the flower.
Lucern must be cross-pollinated to produce large quantities of high quality seed. Honeybees frequently learn to avoid lucern flowers, possibly due to a dislike of having their head hit by the flower. Being larger, bumblebees are not put off when tripping flowers, and are very efficient pollinators of lucern. Bombus terrestris, a short tongued bumblebee, is more efficient than other bumblebee species found in New Zealand.
Lucern is most attractive to honeybees when the flowering plants are slightly moisture stressed. It is possible that a similar scenario may exist with bumblebees, so it is advised to irrigate sections of a block in an alternating pattern to help prevent the bees from leaving the crop for a more attractive food source.
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