How to pollinate Carrots and Beets

Ladies and gentlemen, here is the latest in my series of Pollination Methods videos that I make as part of my thesis project. While carrots and beets are not closely related, they share similar life cycles, pollination methods, and even breeding goals – so I put both of these root vegetables in the same video.
This time of the year, in winter greenhouses, plant breeders will be pollinating carrots and beets – sometimes in the same greenhouse. With help from the carrot and beet experts here at UW-Madison, I give you how to pollinate carrots and beets. Enjoy!


  1. Way back, I had known that purple carrots were possible, and I made myself a reputation because everywhere I went, I sought-out wild stands of Queen Anne’s Lace to pull and look at the roots. Unfortunately, the populations I found NEVER showed any evidence of purple (apparently, the “weed” populations do not have the diversity that I assume exists in the areas of origin). Only once did I find anything promising: In a park (of all places), I found one that had one “sub-umbel” composed entirely of the dark-purple “middle flower” that you see in most plants, presumable a somatic mutation. I wanted to take it home, but it was a crowded place, and I feared trouble if I whipped-out my trowel there and then; when I returned, the site had been mowed. I don’t know if those flowers would even have been fertile; they certainly seemed to lack anthers.
    I also have read that Queen Anne’s Lace (or is it Ammi Majus?) is popular as a florist’s specimen in some places; a purplish-flowered strain might be valuable should it be developed, but if it already exists, it could have been a source of breeding-material. I was unsuccessful in locating such.
    Still, the USDA introductions from, I believe, China, Japan and India rendered my search largely moot. I obtained some USDA seeds early-on, and was all set to do my breeding, but, for this initial small-scale project, I decided to plant them in a communal garden I had access to. Some well-meaning person could not understand why I would be growing carrots for anything but consumption (and so few!), and pulled them and served them in a communal meal. How discouraging. I lost my precious “red” ones too.
    So now I satisfy myself that others have taken-up this challenge, and I plant commercial seed in my home garden. Still though, sometimes I succumb to my childhood habits and pull and eat wild roots, after making sure they are not purple, of course….

  2. Hey, that’s cool to hear. Except for the communal meal problem! I had a community garden plot, but didn’t have a problem with food being stolen so much as vandalized in an odd way. That is itself a fun story to tell, which I promised myself I would tell this spring. Always cool to hear about other people’s backyard breeding projects!
    I just taught a pollination biology lecture this morning, and one enterprising student was asking me afterward about wide crosses with melons – and if I knew of any way to get a closely related species to cross with cultivated melons. There’s still a lot of uncertainty involved in the hunt for wild true melon relatives, so who knows, maybe he will have a hand in finding the right wild accession?
    Thankfully for your carrot explorations, Queen Anne’s Lace is the same species, and can be readily found, and crossed. Maybe not always with the color you want. 🙂

  3. Pleasant video.
    I have grown carrot and beet seeds and then used in subsequent years, mostly with great germination rates. But it is very hard to get pure carrot seed unless you manually isolate since Queen Anne’s Lace is such a common weed and insects apparently travel with it from afar.
    This only makes it hard to sell commercially, however, as I don’t mind a few wild-type hybrids in my home carrot patch. They are easy to spot as they do tend to go to flower within the first summer, i.e., the biennial trait is not fixed.

  4. Karl,
    I have an idea that may apply to some plants where the/a barrier to wide-crosses is pollen GERMINATION: if you were to graft the terminal part of a stigma of the pollen donor onto the stigma of the ovule-bearer, maybe the pollen tubes could penetrate normally once started. That would be hard to do on Daucus, but easy on most cucurbits. After all, the “scion” just has to last a day or two in most cases.
    On another topic, I have noticed that some plants, notably Actinidia and Passiflora, only produce fully-filled fruits. Is it possible that many seeds are formed from a very few pollen grains? Zygopetalum and some others are famous for producing apomictic seeds when pollenized with incompatible pollen, but is there a case where multiple (>>2) sperm come from a single pollen cell? This would be contrary to the canonical system we are all taught, but there are lots of exceptions to canon: consider fungi, for example.
    Other noncanonical systems include turneroideae, and possibly passifloraceae, that have biparental plastid transmission (Shore et al, 1994) and that Cyclamen and some other “dicots” have but one cotyledon.
    And here’s a technique that is related to embyo rescue: I read this to indicate that sperm from separate origins might be used to produce embryo and endosperm, at least in vitro.

  5. Thanks Karl for such a nice presentation of carrots and beets pollination. I am wonder for hybrid seed development without using male sterile plants is there any way to produce hybrid seeds? I mean using some gametocides to spray on normal plants to make them male sterile transiently?? or some better way especially in carrots and beets where individual flowers are not easy to emasculate.
    Best regards!

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