Q. What exactly is pollination?
A. Pollination is a process where pollen is transferred from one flower to another. Some plants are wind-pollinated, meaning that the wind blows the pollen from flower to flower. Other plants need animals to move their pollen. Each pollen grain contains the genetic information (DNA) needed to fertilize an egg. When a pollen grain comes into contact with the flower’s pistil, the egg inside is fertilized. The fertilized egg develops into a seed, which will eventually grow into a new plant.
Q. Which animals are pollinators?
A. Insects, birds, bats and even some lizards and monkeys pollinate plants. In the Canadian prairies, however, the only pollinators are hummingbirds and insects, including bees, flies, butterflies, moths and beetles.
Q. Which are the most important pollinators in the prairies?
A. Bees are among the most important pollinators on the prairies, but flies, especially flower flies, are the next most important.
Q. Are pollinators in danger?
A. Habitat loss and fragmentation, habitat degradation, pesticide poisoning, the spread of diseases and parasites, and climate change are all affecting pollinator populations negatively.
Q. Why should I care about pollinators?
A. Scientists have determined that two-thirds of all crop plant species and about one-third of all calories consumed by people depend on pollinators. Most crop pollination is performed by wild pollinators, not domesticated honeybees. Wild plants provide pollinating insects with food when crop plants are not in flower.
Examples of crop plants that depend on or benefit from pollinators include:
- Fruits – apples, apricots, berries, cherries, melons, oranges, peaches, pears, plums, etc.
- Vegetables – avocados, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, squashes, etc.
- Nuts and seeds – almonds, Brazil nuts, buckwheat, cashews, macadamia nuts, pistachios, etc.
- Oilseeds – canola, flax, olive, safflower, sesame, sunflower, etc.
- Legumes – beans, lupine, peas, peanuts, soybeans, etc.
- Spices – allspice, anise, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, mustard, nutmeg, pepper, vanilla, etc.
- Beverages – chocolate, coffee, cola, gin, tea, etc.
Q. What would a world without pollinators be like?
A. Only wind-pollinated plants, such as grasses, sedges, willows and wind-pollinated forbs, like ragweed, would remain in our grasslands. Ecosystem productivity would be much lower, because most plants that fix nitrogen in the soil are animal-pollinated. The world’s rainforests would disappear, as most plants in the tropics are animal-pollinated. With no new seeds being produced, the rainforests would slowly die. Our diets would be dramatically different, lacking many important nutrients which prevent diseases like scurvy. Many fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, herbs and oil crops as well as fiber crops like cotton and flax would be gone.
Q. Can domesticated honey bees not pollinate all of our crops?
A. Some crop plants can only be pollinated by wild pollinators. For example, honeybees cannot effectively pollinate blueberries; only wild bees can. Other plants can be pollinated by honeybees, but wild bees do a much better job. When wild blue orchard bees pollinated cherry trees, crop yields were double the yields when honey bees were used. If honeybees get sick and there are no wild bees present, farmers and orchard growers might not produce any crop at all.
Q. What kinds of plants should I grow to attract pollinators?
A. Native plants are the best ones to grow, since wild pollinators are adapted to feeding on them. Explore the Plant Gallery to view some of the most common native plants. Avoid horticultural varieties of plants with elaborate modifications to the flowers (like double petals), as insects are not attracted to them.
Q. What can I do to protect pollinators?
A. See the Pollinator Conservation Challenge to learn what you can do.
Q. What does a “bee friendly” logo on an agricultural product mean?
A. A bee-friendly logo means that the farmer has modified his/her agricultural practices to protect and encourage pollinators. This includes: eliminating or minimizing pesticide use, providing nesting sites, providing water and forage plants for pollinators, and keeping bees. See http://pfspbees.org/bee-friendly-farming for more information.