The effect of anther-derived substances on pollen function was studied using pollen produced by in vitro culture of immature pollen of tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.) and petunia (Petunia hybrida). Addition of conditioned medium consisting of diffusates from in situ matured pollen strongly increased pollen germination frequency and pollen tube growth, as well as seed set after in situ pollination. Thin-layer chromatography and depletion of phenolic substances by Dowex treatment indicated that flavonols are present in the diffusate and may be the active compounds. When added to the germination medium, flavonols (quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin) but not other flavonoids strongly promoted pollen germination frequency and pollen tube growth in vitro. The best results were obtained at very low concentrations of the flavonols (0.15-1.5 μM), indicating a signaling function. The same compounds were also effective when added during pollen development in vitro.