How Bees Help Flowers

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Few partnerships are as harmonious as that between bees and flowers – how do bees help flowers? Without bees, some flowers would not be pollinated and unable to produce seed. These two have a symbiotic relationship where both parties benefit. Of course, we are not just talking about honey bees – but other pollinators too. Without them, the continuation of our diverse plant world could not continue.

Field of yellow flowers with honey bees pollinating.

Bees and flowers have a physical relationship that results in new life (seed). For the plants that require bee pollination – this is a love story.  Perhaps, not in the romantic way that one often thinks of love. 

Bees Help Flowers Reproduce

In many plants, pollination occurs when pollen is transferred from one flower to another. Grains of pollen produced by the anthers – (the male parts of the flower – stamens) are moved to the female parts of the flower (stigma). Now, fruit or seed can develop.

Perennial plants come back year after year from root stock. Some of them also produce seed but if they fail to make seed – the mother plant will likely still be around next year.

This is not true for annual plants. They grow fast, flower and produce seed – or fruit containing seed – that will be next year’s plant.

In the case of many food crops, bees help the plants produce more seed and fruits. Think in terms of apples, melons, cucumber, almonds – all of which depend on good pollination from bees.

Diagram of bees moving pollen among flowers for feralization.

Many plants require “cross-pollination” for a good yield. This is where the pollen of one flower is moved to another flower of the same kind of plant. This requires the efforts of many pollinators during the time of bloom.

Each flower has a time that it is available to be fertilized – it does not stay in bloom forever. Imagine a field of sunflowers that bees love, flying insects visit thousands of yellow flowers – exchanging pollen grains at every stop. The result is a “fertilized” flower that produces a lot of sunflower seeds.

Bees Help Flowers Provide Food

In general, having more fruit and seeds available is a good thing. Many members of the food chain enjoy this bounty at some level.

Aid to Modern Agriculture

Why are honey bees so valued among modern agriculture operations? There are two good reasons. In addition to their large families, they tend to visit the same types of flowers during each foraging bee trip. 

This is called “flower fidelity” or “flower consistency” and it helps to ensure that more pollen gets where it needs to be. Sticky pollen grains move from this blossom to the next resulting in fertilization.

If they do not keep beehives themselves, farmers pay migratory beekeepers to move hives in for the crop bloom to provide pollination services. Crop harvests are larger with bees around helping the farmer to make a profit.

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Honey bee pollination efforts make them a great partner for those plants needing cross-pollination. Of course, they are by far not the only important pollinators.

Hummingbirds, moths, various small insects and other beneficial insects provide flower fertilization too. In fact, there are several thousands bee species in the United States that contribute to pollination.

Honey bee in yellow flower covered with sticky pollen.

Beneficial for Wildlife

It is not only agricultural flowers that are helped by bees. In nature, seeds become new plants and add to the floral density of the area.

In many cases, this reproductive act would be very difficult or not take place at all without the help of insects. If the bees did not help these flowers – we would have less of a variety of plants for all wildlife.

Flowers Help Bees Too

The primary goal of honey bees is to collect resources needed by the colony. These workers (females) leave the hive and venture into the dangerous world because survival depends on it.

Nectar is important for the colony because bees make honey with plant nectar. And, many pounds of honey must be stored before cold weather arrives. But nectar is not the only needed resource.

Bees also gather pollen from flowers and store it as bee bread. It is the only source of protein for the honey bee colony because they do not eat other insects.

Without pollen, they would not be able to raise baby bees. Thousands of hungry bee larvae are waiting back in their wax cells for a constant source of food.

Flower pollination takes place accidentally. Our worker honey bee might be collecting nectar or packing pollen on her “pollen baskets” for a trip back to the hive. Either way – it’s a messy job.

Moving from flower to flower, sticky pollen adheres to the fuzzy body parts of the bees. Each flower visit results in some grains of pollen sticking on and some rubbing off.

This transferring of pollen results in fruit and then seed for the plants. The bee has helped the flower reproduce.

When I grow luffa vines in my garden, the bees visit the flowers and help produce natural sponges for me.

How Flowers Attract Bees

Flowering plants in need of pollination must first get the insects to visit. The best flowers for honey bees are those that lure them in the with promise of food. 

Colorful petals and (invisible to us) nectar guides are designed for the how bees see flowers. In some cases, pollen and nectar give off odors or aromas that delicate bee noses can identify.

When scout bees (who are out looking for food) find a good food source, they race back to the hive.  Once inside, they use various honey bee dances to tell their sisters where to look.

Honey bees and other pollinators enjoy the gifts that flowers are able to provide.  However, as far as we know, these hard working insects are not intentionally helping the flowers out. They are only working for survival.

FAQs

How exactly do bees help flowers?

Bees help flowers by providing pollination that aids in producing fruit or seed for reproduction.

Why is pollination important for flowers and ecosystems?

Without pollination, many plants would be unable to produce seeds or fruit, leading to their decline or extinction. This would result in a less varied plant world.

Do all flowers rely on help from bees for pollination?

While bees are prolific pollinators and play a significant role in pollinating a wide variety of flowers, they are not the exclusive pollinators. Other insects such as butterflies, moths, beetles, and flies, as well as some birds and bats, also contribute to pollination.

Finally

While not all plants need insect pollinators for survival – (some plants repel bees), bees are important to many. No seed means no new plants. This would mean the loss of those annual plants that depend on seed each year.

Also, fewer seeds and fruits for other forms of wildlife. This alone is reason enough to help save bees. Plant a variety of blooming plants in your area. Help feed the pollinators that contribute to our world.

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