For species with bicellular pollen, the attrition of pollen tubes is often greatest where the style narrows at the transition between stigmatic tissue and the transmitting tissue of the style. In this region, the tubes switch from predominantly autotrophic to predominantly heterotrophic growth, the generative cell divides, the first callose plugs are produced, and, in species with RNase–type self–incompatibility (SI), incompatible tubes are arrested. We review the literature and present new findings concerning the genetic, environmental and stylar influences on the performance of pollen before and during the autotrophic–heterotrophic transition of pollen tube growth. We found that the ability of the paternal sporophyte to provision its pollen during development significantly influences pollen performance during the autotrophic growth phase. Consequently, under conditions of pollen competition, pollen selection during the autotrophic phase is acting on the phenotype of the paternal sporophyte. In a field experiment, using Cucurbita pepo, we found broad–sense heritable variation for herbivore–pathogen resistance, and that the most resistant families produced larger and better performing pollen when the paternal sporophytes were not protected by insecticides, indicating that selection during the autotrophic phase can act on traits that are not expressed by the microgametophyte. In a study of a weedy SI species, Solanum carolinense, we found that the ability of the styles to arrest self–pollen tubes at the autotrophic–heterotrophic transition changes with floral age and the presence of developing fruits. These findings have important implications for selection at the level of the microgametophyte and the evolution of mating systems of plants.