Bees’ Vital Role in Pollination and How You Can Help Them in Your Own Backyard
By: Christy Erickson
Without the help of a variety of animals, us humans would struggle to make sure the many plants we rely on for food are pollinated. Bees are the world’s most important and efficient pollinator, playing a bigger role than other pollinators like birds, butterflies, and bats - combined. Cross-pollination - when pollen from the flower of one plant fertilizes the flower of another plant - would be severely impacted if bees were to disappear. Bees are not in danger of disappearing as we speak, but their populations are in decline. Here’s why bees are so vital and how you can help protect them in your own backyard.
Bees as the perfect pollinator
Most plants on Earth need some help to reproduce. Some self-pollinators exist, but the majority of plants (80%+) need help from insects, birds, other animals, and the wind. Of course, when we say “plants” we’re not just talking about pretty flowers. Most all the food you eat needs some help in pollination, and bees are thought to play a role in pollinating at least 70 of the top 100 food crops. One out of every three bites of food you take can be traced back to bee pollination.
Bees pollinate plants by transferring pollen. Bees are nature’s perfect pollinators, as they have evolved over time to perform this task more efficiently than any other creature. In a single foraging trip, bees can visit up to 100 plants. They also tend to hop between plants of the same species during a trip, which makes pollination more efficient. Bees have hairs on their legs that easily trap pollen and a long proboscis for sucking nectar out of flowers. Some honeybees have even adapted to have a pollen pouch that makes it easier to transfer their spoils back to the hive, nest, or from plant to plant.
Due to the destruction of their habitat, food shortages in some areas, and the effects of industrial pesticides, bee colonies have been on the decline for decades. It’s a problem that must be addressed at a national (and even international) level, but you can help out on a local level as well.
How you can help bees in your own backyard
If you don’t have a garden in your yard, build one! And if you already do, focus on making it more friendly to pollinators.
A good pollinator garden will have a variety of plant species that attract different kinds of pollinators - bees, birds, butterflies, beetles, etc. Bees love fragrant, colorful flowers (blues, purples, whites, and yellows, mostly). You will want to plant like flowers in bunches instead of scattered across your garden. Pollinators like plants in clumps. You will want to plant flowers that bloom at different times of the year, so that you’ll always have blooms to attract pollinators - from early spring to late fall. Read more here on choosing the best flowers for your garden. And, remember, never ever use pesticides in your home garden.
Water sources are also important. Birds and bees, for example, both like backyard “baths” but bees prefer baths that are shallow, wide, and contain rocks and stones for landing. You must also think about habitat. It’s not enough to provide pollen and nectar for passing bees - you want to give them a place to take up residence as well. The majority of bees don’t live in hives, instead nesting in the ground or inside wood and other debris. Leave some space in your garden clear for ground nesting bees and some brush piled up for other types of burrowers.
There’s an argument to be made that their vital role in food production makes bees one of the most important creatures on the planet when it comes to human survival. Do what you can in your own backyard to help out bees and other pollinators. You’ll not only be doing your part to help protect a vital ally, but pollinators will pay you back tenfold by helping to make your garden healthy and robust.
What are your favorite bee-friendly plants? Let us know below!