I bet you don’t think about bees every time you sit down to eat a meal, but they are an integral part of the food production process. Without bees, the world would not have apples, onions, cucumbers, oranges, and many other fruits and vegetables, because they depend on pollination, which only bees can provide! But it’s not just fruits and vegetables that are pollinated; nuts like almonds from trees need bees to help them grow as well!
So what is pollination? The process of pollination is the transfer of male pollen to the female part (known as the sigma) of a crop. Some crops are able to self-pollinate, which means they can transfer the male pollen to an existing stigma of themselves. Other crops like blueberry plants and grapefruit trees require cross-pollination, a bee-facilitated process of transferring the male pollen to the stigma of another crop of the same type. When the bees gather nectar from the crops, the male pollen sticks to their fuzzy bodies and then is rubbed off on another crop. Once pollinated, the crops are fertilized in order for their seeds to be matured. In addition to helping plants, the bees produce honeys that take on the unique flavors of the crops that they pollinate!
Though the process seems simplistic, some flowers like orchids have complex mechanisms to attract bees for the purpose of pollination. Orchids use methods like food deception and sexual deception to appear attractive to bees. In food deception, the orchids appear or smell as though they produce nectar when in fact they do not produce anything edible for the bees. The attraction nevertheless draws the bees in search of the nectar, which leads them to carry male pollen through their fuzzy bodies to another orchid. More interestingly, food deception is less effective than sexual deception. In sexual deception, the orchids appear as female bees to attract male bees to visit the plant and facilitate the pollination process. However, the orchid can only appear as only one female pollinator – bee, wasp, etc. – and only attract that particular type of male species. It might seem counterintuitive since it limits the amount of pollinators, but in fact, this method yields higher pollination rates.
“In other words, a higher percentage of the pollen that was taken from sexually deceptive orchids actually made it to another orchid of the same species. The orchids with multiple pollinators had more pollen taken from their flowers, but more of that pollen was lost — dropped to the ground or deposited in flowers of the wrong species.
So it appears that specializing with one pollinator — and appealing to it with sex — makes for a more direct line from one orchid flower to another, with less precious pollen lost in the transport process.”
The world of pollination is incredibly fascinating. Without bees and their hard work to process the natural wonders of crop production, many fruits, vegetables, flowers and nuts would not exist. They are an integral part of food production that have the ability to increase yields without using pesticides and chemical fertilizers that are harmful to other plants on the farms, pollinating animals, and consumers – us! Keep the environment friendly and consumers safe by promoting the work of bees on every farm!