Monday October 18, 2021
Pollinators, especially bees, are vital to world food production, nutritional security and our environment. The vast majority of plant species- nearly 90% - rely on pollinators to reproduce and survive.
What are pollinators
A pollinator is an animal that helps move pollen grains as they move from flower to flower. Birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, small mammals, and most importantly, bees are all examples.
What is pollination
Bees pollinate the plants around us. Pollination occurs when pollen is transferred from one flower to another flower of the same species. When a bee collects nectar and pollen from the flower of a plant, some of the pollen from the male stigma sticks to the hairs on the bee’s body. When the bee visits the next flower, some of that pollen is transferred to the female stigma of the second flower and it becomes fertilized. When a flower is fertilized, fruit and seed production can take place and with it come the next generation of plants.
Proper pollination results in large, healthy fruits. Poor pollination results in deformed fruits that often drop off before ripening. Pollination keeps the circle of life in motion.
Can we do this job ourselves? Yes. However, bees, birds, bats and other insects can do a far better job of pollination than us.
Why plants are so essential
Plants are crucial to the existence of all living creatures and make life on Earth possible. Pollinators, such as bees help plants survive, and plants in turn:
- Produce ⅓ of world’s food supply
- Provide ½ of the world’s oils, fibers and other raw materials
- Are used to create medicines
- Provide food, habitat and shelter for wildlife
- Help keep waterways clean
- Prevent soil erosion
- Produce the oxygen we need to breathe
- Absorb carbon dioxide
Our Food, Oils, Herbs and Spices
There are approximately 115 different crop species used for human food consumption and pollination is essential for 41 of these crops. While two-thirds of our food supply comes from cereals grains like wheat, barley, rice and maize which are wind-pollinated, the remaining one-third relies on pollinators, particularly bees.
Without pollinators many of the fruits, vegetables, oils, herbs and spices that we eat on a daily basis would have a great reduction in nutritional quality and crop yield and some like almonds and cacao (yes chocolate!) may cease to exist.
Just to highlight a few fruits, veggies, nuts, oils, herbs and spices
Fruits, Veggies and Nuts:
Bees are also essential for the pollination of many oils, spices and herbs used for baking and cooking.
Many of the healthy food choices that help us live longer and healthier lives are made possible by pollinators. One out of every three bites of food we eat is made possible by bees!
Raw Materials and Fiber
Bees help pollinate many staple raw materials and fibers.
- Cotton: one of the most widely used fabrics in the world. Cotton thread for clothing and household goods is made possible by pollination.
- Flax: used to produce Linen fibers. In hot climates clothing and household goods are commonly made of Linen.
- Hemp: some varieties of hemp need bees. Hemp is used to produce rope, twine and clothing.
- Broad leafed trees: important sources of timber for building, construction and furniture production.
- Sisal: a type of Agave (cactus plant) is used to produce fibers used to weave doormats, carpets, hats, dartboards, sandals, paper and rope.
Medicines and medicinal plants
Many natural medicines and pharmaceutical medicines, as well as wellness supplements used around the world are made possible by pollination.
At the start of the 21st century, 11% of the 252 drugs considered “basic and essential” by the World Health Organization were exclusively of flowering plant origin. Drugs like codeine, quinine and morphine all contain plant-derived ingredients. The common over the counter drug aspirin is derived from willow and aspen trees.
All cultures have folk medicine traditions that include the use of medicinal plants, herbs and bee products such as honey, bee pollen, propolis, royal jelly, beeswax, and bee venom.
Bees in peril
In recent years both native bee and honey bee populations have been decreasing by the billions. According to Bee Informed Partnership, beekeepers across the US lost 45.5% of their managed honey bee colonies from April 2020 to April 2021. This is the second highest loss rate that has been recorded since the survey began in 2006. This is alarming.
The decline has been linked to several factors including:
- Parasites such as the varroa mites
- Habitat loss
- Lack of diverse food sources (flowering plants and trees)
- Exposure to pesticides
- Climate change: high temperature, droughts, floods and extreme climate events
We need the bees and the bees need us to protect them
Bees play a crucial role in the web of life that sustains us and all species. Their decline puts all species and ecosystems at risk. Life on Earth as we know it, would not be possible without plants and the pollinators that keep the circle of life flowing.
Join us in practicing these 5 easy ways to help save the bees:
- Plant a bee garden
- Provide trees for bees
- Make a bee bath
- Go chemical and pesticide free
- Support organic farmers
Let us know in the comments the ways you are helping to save the bees!