Last month, I had a wonderful opportunity to learn more about pollinators, like the honeybee, at the nationally recognized botanical garden – Longwood Gardens!
This professional development opportunity allowed me to not only learn about these amazing plant & animal relationships, but to witness first hand active pollination in the outdoor gardens and photograph some of these interactions up-close!
Here are the top 10 things that I got super excited about that I hope you find fascinating too – all to get you psyched for National Pollinator Week!
COLOR & POLLINATORS
1. As gardeners, we know that certain colors attract certain pollinators – for example, Red attracts Hummingbirds, but during this lecture, I was able to visualize that attraction! While humans see in full color, bees see with a yellow tint, therefore being attracted to bright yellows. Hummingbirds have a very red heavy vision and beetles see in Black and white, therefore being attracted to simple white flowers.
2. Red means “STOP!” to bees. Since bees aren’t attracted to this color, many plants will use that to their advantage. Some flowers, like the Lantana, will actually turn red once pollinated to show bees “Hey, this one’s already been done. Go to a different one!”
3. Hummingbirds are not only attracted to red flowers, but they are also attracted to red stamens! The flower itself may be white, but as long as something is red to show up in their field of vision, they’ll visit!
4. Pollen grains themselves may be different colors. All pollen from one plant species will remain a constant color, but did you know that there is black pollen (tulips) or turquoise pollen (Siberian Squill or the PA Native Wild Geranium)?!
CO-EVOLUTION & ADAPTATIONS
5. Again, gardeners who like having butterflies around, know that butterflies like flat-topped flowers because butterflies like landing with unfolded wings. Little did I know that this was so that they can be prepared at a moment’s notice to take off to escape a hungry predator! If they were to land in a cupped flower and try to escape quickly, their wings could get caught up and a split second of flustering around could cost them their life.
6. Alfalfa leaves are “spring-loaded” and when the heavy weight of a bee lands on them, the leaves snap back and wind up smacking them in the face. Surprisingly enough, the bees don’t like that. This is where the Alfalfa Leaf-Cutter Bee swoops in to the rescue! They eat away at the leaves, getting a yummy meal and allowing other bees to visit the flowers without fear of getting smacked.
7. Dandelions are amazing cold-weather plants for pollinators! Honey bees do not hibernate like other bees (other bees die off completely and the queen goes into hibernation to restart their colony each spring) and therefore start to venture out of the hive in search of food as soon as it’s warm enough to fly – which tends to be very early spring. Of course, this means that there are very few flowers that are producing nectar this early in the season! Dandelions have adapted to the cold temperatures and are one of the few flowers that can produce nectar despite the cold, so Honey bees rely on dandelions for a few days/weeks in late winter/early spring. Don’t mow them down, or weed them out – keep them to provide an integral nectar supply in the early months.
POLLUTION & CURRENT ISSUES
8. Each bee hive needs around 60lbs. of honey in order to survive the winter. Without flowers during ALL seasons (late winter all the way through late fall) honey bees may not get all of the food that they need to keep the entire hive alive until the flowers start blooming again. Due to habitat destruction (development of meadows or over-exploitation of agriculture fields), honey bee populations are in decline without their strong food source!
9. On average, each pollen grain has 6 different pesticide traces. Once the pollen gets into the hive, the wax that they use to seal up their honey with absorbs the pesticides. This means that the honey that they (and WE!) eat, is clean – YAY! – but it’s comparable to having a human live in a house where the walls are filled with Asbestos. Those humans may have a super healthy diet and be exercising, but there’s definitely some side effects to living in that environment.
10. Due to Climate Change, bees and other pollinators are struggling to emerge from the hive or from hibernation at the same time that flowers are becoming available. In some areas, unseasonably warm weather gives bees a cue to emerge, yet flowers haven’t fully bloomed and started producing food yet. In other instances, colder than usual temperatures persist well into late spring and bees won’t have enough food to last for that long.
While I hate to end on a sad note, this should stress the importance of native flower and all-season-blooming gardens! No matter the size of your space, provide some blooms for pollinators and help them make it through the next season.
Enjoy these images from this session for examples of great pollinator plants!