Water-mediated fertilization is ubiquitous in early land plants. This ancestral mode of fertilization has, however, generally been considered to have been lost during the evolutionary history of terrestrial flowering plants. We investigated reproductive mechanisms in the subtropical ginger Cautleya gracilis (Zingiberaceae), which has two pollen conditions - granular and filiform masses - depending on external conditions. We tested whether rain transformed granular pollen into filiform masses and whether this then promoted pollen-tube growth and fertilization of ovules. Using experimental manipulations in the field we investigated the contribution of water-mediated fertilization to seed production. Rain caused granular pollen to form filiform masses of germinating pollen tubes, which transported sperm to ovules, resulting in fertilization and seed set. Flowers exposed to rain produced significantly more seeds than those protected from the rain, which retained granular pollen. Insect pollination made only a limited contribution to seed set because rainy conditions limited pollinator service. Our results reveal a previously undescribed fertilization mechanism in flowering plants involving water-mediated fertilization stimulated by rain. Water-mediated fertilization is likely to be adaptive in the subtropical monsoon environments in which C. gracilis occurs by ensuring reproductive assurance when persistent rain prevents insect-mediated pollination. © 2019 The Authors. New Phytologist © 2019 New Phytologist Trust.