Bees: Useful Creatures For Flowers and Fruits
Apart from the insect pests that target our gardens, there are many insects that are indispensable for a garden full of flowers and fruit. The importance of the bee for the survival of plants and other crops is surprisingly still unknown to many people. But many plants, flowers and fruit trees would be doomed to extinction without the bee. Luckily, the importance is mutual. The same plants provide the staple diet for the hive. So bees need flowers for their 'daily bread', nectar and pollen. Flowers need bees for pollination in order to produce seeds and fruits. They can not live without each other. It is a relationship for life.
Bees can choose from a wide variety
Bees can choose from a wide variety of pollen and nectar, and flowers develop distinctive colours and fragrance to attract them in fierce competition with their neighbours. If growing conditions deteriorate, due to pollution for example, the food production of the flowers will fall, often with disastrous consequences for the plant. The bees will lose interest in the plant, it will not be pollinated and, if conditions do not improve the plant will not be able to survive. To ensure good pollination, fruit growers often hire hives from beekeepers, as good pollination is half the battle. Thus, together with other factors of course, like weather conditions, the chances of a good harvest are enhanced enormously by the presence of a strong hive.
Another important point is that bees provide the animal world with food, directly as well as indirectly. Bears are known to have a taste for the sweetness of honey, but birds too benefit from the bees' diligence. Because of the bees 'accidental' pollination of flowers in their search for food, seeds, berries and fruits are produced. Obviously, a large part of that is picked and eaten by humans, but that still leaves plenty for birds to survive the winter. And that completes the circle. So bees form a very important link in nature.
Without flowers, the world would look rather dull. Just as it would without the bee, considering their key role in the pollination and existence of flowers. But what happens exactly during pollination? There are three different kinds of pollination: by wind, by water or by mammals, birds or insects. Bats are significant pollinating mammals. In tropical and sub-tropical regions, hummingbirds are important pollinators.
Plants are mostly pollinated by insects, however. The insects are sub-divided into beetles, hymenoptera, diptera and butterflies. Honeybees, bumblebees and wasps belong to the hymenoptera and they are the best and most important pollinators.
Flowers are often grouped by their pollinators: bird-flowers, bat-flowers and insect-flowers, and the latter is then sub-divided into insect groups. In bee-flowers for instance, the nectar is easy to reach, because of the bee's 6 mm tongue. In bumblebee-flowers the nectar lies slightly deeper, so more strength is needed to push aside the petals. The bumblebee is strong enough to do so.
Insect-flowers are often noticeable, fragrant flowers in stark contrast with their environment. They may be the larger ones on the edge of a group of flowers engaged mainly in the attraction of pollinators. Many have a certain design on their petals, like stripes, speckles or spots, called the honey mark, which points to where the nectar is. The bees remember colour, fragrance and the shape of the flower as well as the sugar-level of the nectar, so they can find their food supplier again.
Nectar is secreted by the active glands close to the pistil. These glands can lie close to the surface of the flower in apple blossom, or much deeper as in clover, for instance. Excessive rainfall can rinse the nectar out of the 'open' flowers and sun and wind can evaporate water from the nectar, raising the sugar contents. In this way it can happen that one side of a pear tree is visited far more often than the other side of the same tree.
Bees are very faithful to their flowers. On one trip they will only visit one type of flower. They also stick to one colour, even when different coloured flowers of the same type are growing in the same place. This enhances the chances of successful cross-pollination.
By diving deep into the flower in search of nectar, the pollen will stick to the hairy body of the bee. At the next flower, she will deposit some pollen onto the pistil (the female part of the flower). The pollen grains (the male reproductive cells) are formed in the protruding stamen of the flower. The egg cells lie at the bottom of the pistil, in the ovary. The sticky pistil, coming out of the ovary, receives the grain of pollen from the searching bee. This male cell burrows through the pistil, down to the ovary where the fusion takes place. The flower has been fertilised and its work is done. The petals drop and the fruit or the seeds grow from the ovary.
There are three kinds of pollination. First there is self-pollination, where the pollen from a certain flower end up on the pistil of the same flower. Secondly, neighbour-pollination, in which the pollen of one flower is deposited on a flower from the same plant. And last but not least, cross-pollination. This is the most desirable and common way of pollination in the plant world. The pollen of one flower of a certain variety fertilises the flower of a different variety but of the same sort. The flowers of a Cox's Orange apple tree for instance, can be fertilised by the pollen of the Golden Delicious apple tree.
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