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[Gr.,=virgin birth], in biology, a form of reproduction in which the ovum develops into a new individual without fertilization. Natural parthenogenesis has been observed in many lower animals (it is characteristic of the rotifers), especially insects, e.g.
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the formation of fruits on a plant without fertilization. Such fruits usually are seedless or contain seeds without embryos. Parthenocarpy occurs in many cultivated plants, including grapes, apples, pears, squashes, cucumbers, tomatoes, mandarins, and bananas. In a number of cases, for example, in seedless grapes, parthenocarpy is a permanent varietal feature. Plants that develop only seedless fruits can reproduce only vegetatively—by layerage, cutting, or budding.
A distinction is made between vegetative, or autonomous, parthenocarpy and stimulated parthenocarpy. In the former, the fruits form without pollination; in the latter, the stigmata must be stimulated by foreign pollen in order to form fruit. Pollen from several varieties of apple is able to stimulate parthenocarpy in a number of pear varieties; potato pollen can stimulate parthenocarpy in tomato, while tomato pollen can stimulate the parthenocarpic formation of fruit in eggplant. At times, parthenocarpy is caused by traumatic, chemical, or thermal stimulation of the stigmata.
Induced parthenocarpy has acquired economic significance in the cultivation of tomatoes and cucumbers. Methods have been developed for spraying plants with weak chemical solutions to stimulate the abundant formation of pulpy, juicy, and tasty seedless fruit.