Bees as pollinators
Bees are essential to our daily lives. If you eat fruits, vegetables, or nuts during the day, there's a good chance your food has been helped along by a bee. By pollinating over 120 crop plants, it is estimated that bees pollinate approximately one-third of the world's food crops. Besides producing honey, the honeybee (Apis mellifera), has been used extensively for commercial pollination. The value of pollination service by bees is worth billions of dollars annually. Bees also pollinate our native plants that provide food and habitats for other species.
Pollination is the process by which pollen is transferred in the reproduction of plants. Pollination by insects, or entomophily, is one form of pollination, which means that the pollinator actually moves the pollen grains from the anther of the flower to the receptive part of the carpel or pistil. Bees are attracted to plants that have brightly colored petals and are strongly scented.
Colony Collapse Disorder
In the past decade, there has been an unrelenting decline of worker honeybees worldwide. In 2006, this phenomenon became known as Colony Collapse Disorder. There are multiple factors playing a role in honeybee colony declines, including parasites and disease, genetics, poor nutrition, and pesticide exposure.
Conservation and Beekeeping
One of the earliest bee fossils found to date is from the early Cretaceous Period, approximately 100 million years ago. Since bees are so important to global agriculture, our lives, and to the planet, it's important to take measures to keep bees healthy. Planting native plants that attract bees and other pollinators to our gardens is a very simple solution for local conservation, and of course if you must use them, choose pesticides that are certified organic. Beekeeping is not only a popular way to harvest honey, it's a good way to keep bees in check, healthy and fed.
To learn more about bees, check out these resources at the Lenhardt Library.
Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America's Bees and Butterflies: Xerces Society Guide
Matthew Shepherd, Mace Vaughn, Scott Hoffman
Homegrown Honeybees: Beekeeping Your First Year. From Hiving to Honey Harvest
A Spring Without Bees: How Colony Collapse Disorder
"Bee Season"by Richard Schweid
Garden Design, March 2011, Issue 171, pages 16-18
Topics include the decline of the European and U.S. honeybees, and how native bees are filling in the gaps.
"Buzz From the Bees" by Mike Nowak
Chicagoland Gardening, March/April 2008, Vol. 14, Issue 2, pages 42-45
USDA looks at the discouraging numbers of bees in poor health.
"The Importance of Honeybees" by Rowan Jacobson
Fine Gardening, June 2009, Issue 127, page 86
Explains the importance of honeybees, and what characteristics of plants attract them.
Websites for more information
American Beekeeping Federation
Chicago Botanic Garden's Plant Information: Conservation
The ABCs of Our Native Bees
Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations
North American Pollinator Protection Campaign