Plants are one of the most successful life forms. In fact, we could say that they are the most successful life form, because plants are self-sufficient. They can live without eating other beings because they can make their own food. Only plants, phytoplankton, algae and cyanobacteria can synthesize food from sunlight, carbon dioxide, minerals and water.
At the same time, plants have a serious limitation: they are rooted to the earth, so they can’t run away from pests and they can’t pursue another plant in order to have sex. But are plants helpless. Oh, no. They have developed chemical warfare and chemical magnetism to protect themselves from predators and attract allies.
Because plants lack locomotion, they have evolved to be masters of seduction. They seduce other beings who have locomotion to help them have sex. That is what is known as pollination. Some pollination occurs because of wind and gravity, but mostly it depends on the activity of insects, and of course, bees are the most successful pollinators.
Sex is nature’s mechanism to create more beings and mostly it requires the male particles (sperm or pollen) to penetrate the female ovaries. In flowers, pollen must contact the stigma in order for the magic of creating a new flower to occur. Plants have evolved to seduce insects to carry the pollen to the stigma and they use one of the most seductive materials on planet earth: sugar. What is produced by photosynthesis is sugar or carbohydrates which is the supplies the energy for most life on earth. Animals and fungi rely on plants for their survival. Bees come to flowers for both the sugars and minerals in flower nectar and for the protein, vitamins, fats and minerals in pollen.
If bees ripped off the nectar and pollen from flowers and did nothing in return to benefit the flowers, life would not prosper. And in order for the system to work, flowers must do more than seduce the bees to facilitate sex, they must produce an abundance of pollen so that pollinators can take some and enough is left for procreation. Bees have evolved to have hairs so the sticky pollen clings to them and is then transferred to anther flower as the bees buzz around. A limited number of plants are self-fertile, that is they can reproduce by themselves, but most plants need to have cross-pollination which improves genetic diversity and is an improved survival strategy.
Plants vary in flower forms, shapes, sizes and nutritional content of their nectar and pollen. They attract different kinds of pollinators and offer different rewards. Nectar provides energy for both native and honey bees. It is carried in the honey stomach of honey bees where it is mixed with enzymes and microorganisms and is taken back to the hive where it is used to fill hexagonal cells and fanned to remove water so that it becomes honey.
Pollen is also carried back to the hive by female honey bees but seldom on the same trip as nectar. Pollen is mixed with water and nectar from the bee’s mouth, adding microorganisms and enzymes that release nutrients and amino acids. This is bee bread. Pollen is not need much by adults, but is crucial for bee brood development. Brood rearing is much reduced when the pollen is low in protein, which also affects tolerance to Nosema parasite. And bees live longer on pollen supplement than on sugar water diet.
Pollens with higher protein value are found in: canola, almond, clover, Pear, Poplar, Aspen, Echium, Cottonwood, Lupine, Ephedra, blackberry and raspberry. Lower protein pollen comes from daisies, dandelions, pine. It is important to have a variety of amino acids but volume of protein is also important.
Bees lacking in nutrition are more prone to disease, don’t live as long and can’t maintain a strong hive. Brood production falls off and eventually a colony will die. This is also true when bees are affected by pesticides like neonicotinoids. Even small non-lethal quantities can weaken insects and make them more vulnerable to diseases, mites and lack of nutrition.
Whereas native plants are essential for native pollinators, because honey bees have a European origin, plants of European origin like herbs and European wildflowers often provide good nectar and pollen for them.
In order for plants to provide nectar and pollen with good nutritional value, the plants must be strong and vital, and in order for the plants to have good nutrition, the soil organisms must have good nutrition. That is why learning how to feed the soil life with organic matter, minerals and some fertilizers is critical to the health of all of us who depend on plants.
Copyright 2019 Mikl Brawner