Pollinators and Pollination

Mattie blue
Former intern Mattie Blue picks a cucumber from a patch of vegetables in the Bayer pollinator garden in Research Triangle Park, NC. Cucumbers are a favorite for people and pollinators and are highly dependent on bees for pollination. 
Pollinators are insects and animals that assist in the transfer of pollen to help plants reproduce. They include species of ants, bats, bees, beetles, birds, butterflies, flies, moths, and wasps. (Pollination can also be accomplished by the wind, water or other vectors.) Many of the fruits and vegetables that are part of a healthy diet depend on pollination to bear fruit. In fact, a lot of the world’s food supply,  including fruits, vegetables and seed production, (corn being one exception), depends on pollination – whether it be for crops that are eaten, or for crops used as forage for animals that provide meat and milk. In addition, pollinators are important contributors to the beauty of many urban landscapes, including yards, golf courses, parks and more. Wildflowers and many other wild plants rely on pollination to produce fruits and seed. So bees and other pollinators play an important role in modern agriculture, backyard gardens, and picturesque settings around the world.

What is pollination?
Pollination is the movement of pollen from one flower to another flower. Successful pollen transfer is a requirement before pollen tubes can germinate and fertilization can take place to produce fruits and seeds. As bees fly from blossom to blossom gathering pollen and nectar, part of the pollen they pick up at one plant brushes off on the next. Pollen grains from the male anther of a flower are transferred to the female stigma.

Many plants are completely dependent on pollinators, such as bees, to produce fruits, vegetables and seeds, while other plants can be pollinated by wind or water, or self-pollinated.
As allergy-sufferers can attest, plants that are wind-pollinated tend to release large quantities of pollen. For example, pine trees are wind-pollinated. Because they are not dependent on pollinators, wind-pollinated trees and plants don’t need to have brightly-colored flowers, nectar or scent to attract them. On the other hand, plants that are totally dependent on pollinators often produce attractive flowers – especially yellow, blue or purple – to capture the attention of pollinators.

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pollinator map
The specialty nut, fruit and vegetable crops that bees pollinate tend to be in coastal and border states, so many bees travel back and forth across the country. » more
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