Many plants rely on bees for pollination. But how does bee pollination actually work? Here is everything you need to know about bee pollination.
In summer, you can see it everywhere: busy bees flying from flower to flower in search of nectar and pollen. While eagerly searching for food in the garden, honeybees are also carrying out another important job: pollination. Around 80% of all flowering plants depend on insect pollination, and bees are vital to this process.
Bee pollination doesn’t only benefit biodiversity. Bees are great in the garden too. Bee pollination actually increases harvest yields as well as the quality of many crops, including apples (Malus) and cherries (Prunus). But how do bees pollinate crops? Read on to find out the ins and outs of bee pollination!
How does bee pollination work?
Honeybees and other wild bees play an important role in plant pollination. To make sure that bees land on their flowers, plants compete with one another to grab the pollinator bee’s attention with attractive scents and colours.
When a bee lands on a flower, it begins to suck up the nectar from inside the flower with its long snout, collecting pollen in so-called “pollen pouches” on its hind legs. Because the bee must go so far inside the flower to gather the nectar, tiny pollen particles stick to the bee’s furry body.
When the bee flies to the next flower and collects more sweet nectar, it transfers the pollen stuck to its fur onto the stigma, the female plant organ, of the new flower. Seed grains then mature in the flower, completing the pollination cycle.
In a single flight, one bee can pollinate up to 100 flowers. However, once a bee finds a flower it likes, it tends to stick with it. During one flight, a bee will stick to the same plant species, which, in turn, increases that plant’s chances of pollination. What is more, honeybees communicate with one another using special dances, which can lead to entire colonies visiting particularly fruitful flowers. Amazingly, a single bee colony can pollinate up to 20 million flowers a day!
- Bees are attracted to the scent and colour of flowers.
- The pollen and nectar found inside a flower are a bee’s main food-source.
- When collecting pollen and nectar, pollen sticks to the bee’s fur.
- The pollen is transferred to the stigma of the next flower, completing the pollination cycle.
- Bees are loyal to one flower species and communicate lucrative locations to their colony using dances.
What plants do bees pollinate?
Around 800 native plant species rely on bee pollination, which is why this busy insect is such an essential part of our eco-system. A major advantage of the honeybee is its adaptability. Thanks to its moderate size and snout length, honeybees can pollinate a wide variety of flowers.
Particularly bee-friendly plants, including herbs such as thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and sage (Salvia), bee-friendly flowers such as mallow (Malva) and phacelia (Phacelia) and bee-friendly shrubs such as raspberry (Rubus idaeus) and wild roses (Rosa) are often pollinated by honeybees. In fact, these little insects are also responsible for pollinating willow (Salix) and fruit trees.
Wild bees, on the other hand, take a slightly different approach. Of the nearly 600 species of wild bees, many are highly specialised and, depending on the species, only pollinate specific plants. For example, the small heather colletes bee (Colletes succinctus) specialises in pollinating only heather (Ericeae), especially broom heather (Calluna vulgaris). The mason bee (Osmia adunca), on the other hand, focuses exclusively on viper’s bugloss (Echium).
Although wild bees tend to focus on want species, their importance should not be underestimated. Wild bees pollinate flowers that the honeybee cannot, providing a vital contribution to the conservation of wildflowers and herbs.
To provide wild bees with a nutritious food source, it is worth opting for native, wild plants. Cultivating a meadow of flowers using a seed mix is a great idea. The more types of flowers and herbs, the better.
Want to get involved? Here is how to plant a flower meadow or bee pasture!