Monday, June 7, 2010

Attracting Pollinators

Flowering plants attract pollinators using the same schemes that attract us to flowers: fragrance, color, shapes, and visual patterns in the flowers. Once the flowers have attracted pollinators, they offer a reward that ensures that the pollinator will return. The reward of nectar or pollen is food for the pollinator. The flowering plant expends considerable energy producing nectar and pollen. In exchange for its effort, the pollinator moves granules of pollen from flower to flower and completes a necessary step in the reproduction of the plant. Complex schemes of flowering plant reproduction evolved. The honey bees split from their carnivorous wasp ancestors about 100 million years ago at the time the flowering plants emerged. The honey bees evolved a successful survival strategy based upon a social order. The bees lived in a colony and shared common reproduction, an age-based division of labor, a continuous production of young, common food gathering, and a diet based upon food supplied by flowering plants. The successful flowering plants evolved reproductive strategies that allowed them to effectively attract pollinators. Different plants produced flowers of different sizes, shapes, colors, and fragrances. Some competed with other plants by offering nectar of greater concentrations of sugars. Flowering plants gained success in reproducing by staggering their flowering throughout the year. If all plants bloomed at the same time, it is unlikely that all would be effectively pollinated by the available animals.

The flowers that we see today are the end result of genetic trial and error. Each flower fits into a niche. We have a large prickly pear cactus growing in a rock garden next to the Peace Bee Farm honey house. The cactus is a typical desert dweller. The plant’s beautiful flowers don’t attract honey bees, even though they are plentiful in the area. In the desert, where honey bees are rarely found, plants must rely upon other pollinators, often night-flying bats, moths, or other insects. Click on the photo to see a soldier beetle pollinating our cactus.

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