If you’ve ever sneezed your way through a particularly nasty allergy season, or been stung by a yellow jacket after your soda at a summer picnic, you may wonder why pollination is important. Wouldn’t it be easier to avoid all those allergens, and relegate bees to making honey instead of buzzing around, dive-bombing your favorite drink?
Well, let’s go back to that aforementioned summer picnic for a moment to see what a world without pollination would look like.
- The paper plates and paper napkins would vanish right off the table: the trees we use for paper products rely on pollination to support the forests and nurture seeds to trees.
- The burger and hot dog buns would vanish too: farmers that harvest wheat relies on crop pollination to grow their goods.
- How about those mustard and ketchup bottles? The mustard seed and turmeric that gives mustard its signature color and flavor are no more. The tomatoes and corn (syrup) that make that ketchup so tasty are also proverbial toast.
- And finally, say goodbye to those perfectly-grilled hamburgers and hot dogs too. Both cows and pigs are fed with grain and feed that contains grain and corn, which means no meat either.
Suddenly, that picnic doesn’t seem quite as appetizing, does it? The truth is that while it’s definitely nerve-wracking to duck a bee intent on sharing your soda, they’re also incredibly hard-working insects that deserve a lot of respect. In fact, most of the time a bee is interested in a sugary food or soda is due to a lack of readily-accessible flowers in the area. Bees need sugar in the form of nectar to bring back to the hive, where it sustains the entire colony. If someone offered you a free lunch for the taking, you’d probably be pretty excited about it too.
Pollination and Plants
Pollination ensures the survival of native plants, but it does so much more than that. While two flowering plants growing next to each other can cross-pollinate (with the help of a handy bee or another pollinator), sending genetic material beyond the immediate area supports biodiversity. A mix of both familiar and unfamiliar genetics gives plant offspring the best resistances against blight, defects, and other issues that could impact the health of its seeds. It allows a plant species with a minimal foothold in an area to grow and prosper, claiming more of its surrounding habitat. It helps reseed areas devastated by natural disasters, predators, or other damaging influences. Pollination is both a fast forward and a reset button, depending on the needs of the habitat surrounding it.
Pollination and Bees
While bees are an integral part of insect pollination, they also rely on pollination to survive. Flowering plants have nectar as a direct result of their need to pollinate – nectar entices bees to gather it, getting covered in pollen in the process. In addition to this passive transfer of pollen, a certain percentage of each hive’s worker bees are dedicated to actively collecting pollen to bring back to the hive. While it isn’t used in the honey making process, it acts as a crucial source of protein for baby bees, giving them strength to grow into hardworking adults.
As the bee life cycle is only a handful of weeks for each bee, having strong replacements waiting in the “wings” is very important. Combine that ticking deadline with the fact that pollen isn’t available year-round and you’ll begin to understand why it’s so important. Pollen is the protein shake of the bee world, and it keeps young bees pumped up, energetic, and ready to do their nectar-collecting duties. In fact, pollen is so important that if a beekeeper notices that bees aren’t collecting enough pollen naturally, he or she must furnish an artificial pollen substitute in and around the hive to make sure the colony doesn’t collapse for lack of viable worker replacements.
Pollination and You
Pollination is a process that largely relies on wildlife and wind, but that doesn’t mean that humans can’t play a role as well. Growing plenty of local flowers in your garden helps with biodiversity and helps nearby bees with shorter nectar-gathering trips, ultimately strengthening the hive. Brightly colored flowers that are well-watered will produce the vibrant blooms that animal pollinators like hummingbirds seek out. In fact, clustering many of these beautiful, colorful blooms together in the garden will make them almost irresistible to the animals and insects they rely on for pollination.
If gardening isn’t your forte, even potted plants will do the trick – the idea is to have healthy, growing flowers in an outdoor space that’s easy for animal pollinators or insect pollinators to access. Be sure to take a look outside now and then to see your work in action: the bees, and the earth, will appreciate your thoughtful eco-conscious gesture.
- “The Importance of Pollinators.” USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Pennsylvania (www.nrcs.usda.gov), (no publish date), https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/pa/plantsanimals/?cid=nrcs142p2_018171. Accessed May 30, 2019.
- “Why is Pollination Important?” U.S. Forest Service (www.fs.fed.us), (no publish date), https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/importance.shtml. Accessed May 30, 2019.
- “Endangered Pollinators And Their Habitats.” U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (www.fws.gov), (no publish date), https://www.fws.gov/pollinators/. Accessed May 30, 2019.