The spring of the year sees a continuous series of fruit trees coming into bloom. The blooming season begins in California with almond trees. Almonds are one of the nation’s major agricultural export crops, and the nuts can only be produced after the trees are pollinated by honey bees. It is said that an almond tree without bees is merely a shade tree. In the Mid-South we will see plums, pears, peaches, cherries, apples, and crabapples in bloom. Each of these trees, even the almonds, is a member of the roses, an important family of bee plants. The rose family, which also includes the flowering roses, hawthorns, blackberries, and bramble vines, provides large amounts of nectar and pollen for honey bees. The fruit trees provide food for the bees in the form of nectar and pollen, and the bees serve the trees by pollinating their flowers. As the bees move about the flower blossoms, they inadvertently carry pollen from flower to flower and tree to tree. This is a necessary step in the production of fruit and seed.
Click on today’s photo to see a honey bee collecting pollen from a pear tree blossom. Bright yellow pollen from the flower’s anthers adheres to the hairy body of the honey bee. When she touches the sticky stigma of a pear flower, the tree produces fruit and seeds. Honey bees are the greatest pollinator of agricultural food crops because they live in large colonies which can be transported to the crops needing pollination. Honey bees also exhibit a behavior known as flower constancy, which means that bees foraging on a species of plant will continue to visit that same plant as long as it stays in bloom and produces an attractive reward to the bees. Beekeepers pollinating pears coordinate their efforts with the orchard owners because the pear nectar is relatively weak in sugar content and may not be as attractive to the honey bees as other nearby plants in bloom.