Many people may think of bees as nothing more than pesky insects, but they’re vital to our ecosystem, food supply, and everyday lives. These flower-seekers harvest pollen and nectar from blooms, carrying pollen from one plant to another as they go. We’d surely be missing out on a lot of food if it weren't for bees — and we aren’t just talking about the delicious honeycomb they produce. As pollinators, bees are essential to maintaining over 35% of our food crops and most flowering plants.(1)
Humans aren’t the only ones who depend on bees for pollination. The vegetation that bees pollinate creates an important habitat for wildlife, including other pollinators. Landscapes that bees pollinate are good for the planet, too — the plants draw carbon from the atmosphere to use for photosynthesis, eliminating greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Fossil evidence suggests that bees evolved alongside flowering plants.(2) Read on to find out what this prehistoric process looks like these days.
How Pollination Works
Pollination is so simple, yet so vital.
Once a bee lands on the desirable plant or flower, it sucks up the nectar — which is the basis for honey — using their proboscis (an elongated mouthpart), and stores it in their honey stomach.
Fun fact: Bees have two stomachs. One stomach is for food and the other special stomach, the “honey stomach,” is for storing nectar collected from flowers so they can carry it back to their hive.
When bees collect pollen and nectar from flowers, pollen from the male reproductive organ of the flower sticks to the hairs of the bee’s body. When the bee visits the next flower, some of the pollen is rolled off and onto the female reproductive organ of the flower. Once the bees land on a flower, their feet are placed in a groove that contains the flower’s pollen sacs. When the bee is finished and on to the next flower, it carries off this sac on its feet. Then upon landing on another flower for its pollen, the pollen sac falls off the bee and the pollen falls out of the sac.
This is what creates the whole process of pollination. Is your mind blown yet?
Why Flowers? Why Are Bees Drawn To Plants?
It’s pretty crazy to think about how bees spend their whole lives finding and landing on different flowers and plants. Much like is the case for humans, the bright and beautiful colors and the refreshing scent of flowers appeal to the bees and draw them in.
Bees can also see colors and have preferred and “favorite” colors — just like we do! Generally, bees tend to fly toward the colors yellow and blue. (Fun fact: they cannot see the color red.)
Bees are particularly drawn to certain kinds of flowers and plants as well. Many gardeners strategically plan their garden to attract bees to help with the pollination process. Pollination is crucial for healthy and productive gardens.
Bees are drawn to single flowers with one ring of petals — these provide more nectar and pollen than double flowers do. Blue, purple and yellow flowers tend to have the most nectar, which is loaded with sugars and is the bee’s main source of energy.
But now, you may be wondering how the little guys smell the pollen? Here is your answer: Bees can smell with their antennae. They can smell around and spatially, which enables them to tell which direction the smell is coming from in order for them to head straight for the pollen-filled plants to collect the nectar.
Why Is Pollination Important?
Without bees, many of the crops in the US would not even exist! Bee colonies take care of the pollination of crops like apples, melons, berries, cherries, and even broccoli and almonds. It’s estimated that there are about seven million bee colonies in the US today, two-thirds of which travel the country each year pollinating crops and producing honey and beeswax, both of which greatly benefit us. Further, pollen is a great source of proteins and fats.
Summing this all up, without pollination, our lives would be lacking a stable food supply and nature’s beauty. We also wouldn’t have honeycomb. It’s easy to overlook the importance of bees, but what would a world be without our favorite sweet snack and other nutritious food? And no flowers?
Protecting Our Pollinators
Here at Pass the Honey, we can’t imagine a world without these things. We also think it’s an added bonus that we can harvest the honeycomb that these special creatures produce. We depend so much on bees, and now they’re depending on us. That’s why our honeycomb profits fund pollinator research and habitat restoration.