Male reproductive success in higher plants depends largely on the fates of pollen, but current methodologies have given only partial insights into this important aspect of plant mating. We present a detailed analysis of the proportions and absolute amounts of stained pollen involved in six key fates for the hawkmoth-pollinated African orchid Disa cooperi. Despite being packaged into pollinaria, high proportions (> 0.95) of the pollen removed from anthers were lost during transport by hawkmoths in both years. The proportion of pollen lost correlated positively with the number of pollinaria removed from a plant, so that pollen export did not vary with pollen removal. Most pollen was dispersed to neighbouring plants, with rare long-distance dispersal up to 65 m. Of the pollen that reached stigmas during both years, roughly equal amounts were involved in facilitated self-pollination vs. cross-pollination, but the relative proportions of these fates differed between years. Contrary to expectation, we found that self-pollination between flowers did not increase with the number of open flowers, even though moths probed significantly more flowers on larger plants. However, during both years the fraction of removed pollen exported to other plants declined significantly with increasing self-pollination on the source plant, indicating that once self-pollination occurred it reduced (discounted) subsequent pollen export opportunities. The packaging of pollen into pollinaria in orchids appears to increase overall transfer efficiency by at least an order of magnitude relative to plants with granular pollen. Nevertheless, considerable uncertainties remain in the male reproductive success of individual orchids. © 2005 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2005, 86, 175–190.