Natural selection operates on the mating strategies of hermaphrodites through their functional gender, i.e. their relative success as male versus female parents. Because functional gender will tend to be strongly influenced by sex allocation, it is often estimated in plants by counting seeds and pollen grains. However, a plant's functional gender must also depend on the fate of the seeds and pollen grains it produces. We provide clear evidence of a paternal effect on the functional gender of a plant that is independent of the resources invested in pollen. In the Mediterranean tree Fraxinus ornus, males coexist with hermaphrodites that disperse viable pollen and that sire seeds; the population would thus appear to be functionally androdioecious. However, we found that seedlings sired by hermaphrodites grew significantly less well than those sired by males, suggesting that hermaphrodites may be functionally less male than they seem. The observed 1 : 1 sex ratios in F. ornus, which have hitherto been difficult to explain in the light of the seed–siring ability of hermaphrodites, support our interpretation that this species is cryptically dioecious. Our results underscore the importance of considering progeny quality when estimating gender, and caution against inferring androdioecy on the basis of a siring ability of hermaphrodites alone.