Successful pollination and fertilization are absolute requirements for sexual reproduction in higher plants. Pollen hydration, germination and penetration of the stigma by pollen tubes are influenced by the exudate on wet stigmas and by the pollen coat in species with dry stigmas. The exudate allows pollen tubes to grow directly into the stigma, whereas the pollen coat establishes the contact with the stigma. Pollen tubes then grow into the papillae, which are covered by a cuticle. The components of the exudate or pollen coat that are responsible for pollen tube penetration are not known. To discover the role of the exudate, we tested selected compounds for their ability to act as functional substitutes for exudate in the initial stages of pollen-tube growth on transgenic stigmaless tobacco plants that did not produce exudate. Here we show that lipids are the essential factor needed for pollen tubes to penetrate the stigma, and that, in the presence of these lipids, pollen tubes will also penetrate leaves. We propose that lipids direct pollen-tube growth by controlling the flow of water to pollen in species with dry and wet stigmas.