I. What is Pollination?
Pollination is the transfer of pollen from one flower to another so that the plants can reproduce. Rain, wind, and animals can help transfer pollen, but a lot of plants rely on insects, like butterflies, beetles, and bees to pollinate fast and efficiently. Once pollinated, a flower can form fruit, which is where the plant’s seeds develop.
II. How do Bees Pollinate?
When bees land on flowers to collect nectar, which they need for food, the hairs on their legs gather a yellow powder called pollen that comes from the male part of the plant, the stamen. When bees move from one flower to another, gathering more nectar, they transfer pollen to the stigma, the female part of the flower, which pollinates the plant.
Through pollination, bees and other pollinators help plants continue their life cycles to produce fruit and seeds that will grow new seedlings. Each plant will provide food, shade, or habitat for birds, insects, rodents, and other animals. Without pollinators, we would not have many of the berries, seeds, fruits, and vegetables that feed us and our animal neighbors.
A honey bee pollinates a nootka rose in the Salmon Center native plant nursery
III. Meet the Pollinators
Honey bees are native to Eurasia, and though they are now common in the US, they were brought by Europeans to the colonies in the early 1600s. (1) Honey bees pollinate as they gather nectar which they use to produce honey in the comb of their hive.
Mason bees are native to North America and make up 25% of the world’s bee population. These bees are effective pollinators because they carry pollen on their underbellies that easily falls off as they visit a wide variety of flowers. (2)
Bumble bees are pollinators that produce wax to build nectar pots and egg laying compartments for themselves. The queen does all the construction of the home and she uses their findings of pollen and nectar to build a pollen ball where she lays her eggs.
A bumble bee pollinates a thistle
Flower visiting wasps include paper wasps, yellow jacket wasps and bald-faced hornets. These wasps are in search of nectar for food. Social wasps eat wood fibers and regurgitate them into a paper substance with which they build their nests on horizontal tree branches or other surfaces.
Beetles are in search of nectar and pollen for food. They are not as effective as other pollinators because they spend a long time on each plant. They prefer wide open, white, cream or green colored flowers, as well as fragrances that are spicy, fruity or fermented.
Moths and Butterflies collect nectar and sap from flowers. Moths are nocturnal insects and do most of their foraging at night when they tend to pollinate fragrant, white or cream colored flowers. (3)
- Holm, H. (2014). Pollinators of native plants: Attract, observe and identify pollinators and beneficial insects with native plants. Minnetonka, MN: Pollination Press LLC.