Pollination 101

Even the most casual conversation about beekeeping soon wends its way toward the inevitable topic of pollination—What is it, exactly? What role do bees play in it? And why should we care about it?

Such questions are usually asked with a vague sense of apology. We know we should be more conversant with something so basic to our food supply and our natural world, yet back in school, who among us did not zone out 150% when the topic of botany arose? The clock hands practically froze when the words "stamen," "stigma," and "anther" were uttered by teachers who somehow managed to make it all seem so distant, static, and dull.

I guess it takes decades of living to realize just how spellbinding plant sexuality can be, and just how mighty a role insect pollination plays in our lives—at least to the degree that our existence is tied with the availability of fruits, nuts, and flowers (not to mention stuff like coffee, cotton, and cola nuts). Check out this cool chart of bee-pollinated crop plants to see the scope of services bees and other insects provide.

I'll be the first to admit that, until I started gardening and beekeeping, the ins and outs of pollination were shrouded in vagueness and/or outright mystery. These days, though, every almond, apple, squash, and berry I encounter brings amazement about the intricacies of pollination and gratitude to the compound-eyed critters who make such gifts as the cukes below possible.Putting aside the 1950s-style narration and attendant assumptions about insect awareness (which I confess I find amusing), this short video provides a decent summary of how flowering plants reproduce.

Here's more:

A ton of fact sheets from the Xerces Society about pollinator conservation.

A HowStuffWorks Video on Pollination & Fertilization.

A Wikipedia page fruit tree pollination.

Wikipedia on pollination in general.

The Pollinator Partnership's new ecoregional planting guides to attract pollinators to your garden.

The utterly fascinating Pollinator Conservation Digital Library.

A New York Times article on the sexual trickery of orchids and hot, hot waspy action!

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