Flowering plants have immotile sperm that develop within the pollen cytoplasm and are delivered to female gametes by a pollen tube, a highly polarized extension of the pollen cell. In many flowering plant species, including seed crop plants, hundreds of pollen tubes grow towards a limited number of ovules. This system should ensure maximal fertilization of ovules and seed production; however, we know very little about how signalling between the critical cells is integrated to orchestrate delivery of two functional sperm to each ovule. Recent studies suggest that the pollen tube changes its gene-expression programme in response to growth through pistil tissue and that this differentiation process is critical for pollen tube attraction by the female gametophyte and for release of sperm. Interestingly, these two signalling systems, called pollen tube guidance and pollen tube reception, are also species-preferential. The present review focuses on Arabidopsis pollen tube differentiation within the pistil and addresses the idea that pollen tube differentiation defines pollen tube identity and recognition by female cells. We review recent identification of genes that may control pollen tube–female gametophyte recognition and discuss how these may be involved in blocking interspecific hybridization.

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