All About Pollinators Blog Series: What is Pollination?

By Mary Brennan, HF&G Volunteer and Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist

In this week’s post, we’ll talk about what pollination is. Let’s begin with the flower. Whether it’s a flower on a tree, bush, grass, food crop or in a forest, field or your backyard, most flowers need other flowers in order to produce seeds to make more of themselves – to reproduce. The problem is that flowers don’t move around. They’re stuck pretty much where they are planted, and therefore need some help dispersing their pollen. That’s where the pollinators come in. Pollen (the tiny grains necessary to make new seeds for new plants/ bushes/ trees) needs to be transported from one flower to another in order for seeds to be produced. In some cases the wind does the work, but for the majority of plants, a more mobile method of transfer is required – something that flies! Now, flowers are surprisingly clever. They lure these helpers to where the pollen is located by offering a tasty reward – nectar, a sugary liquid that provides energy or “flight fuel” to the pollinator.

Bee covered in pollen

That’s not all! Flowers differ in shapes, sizes and the times in which nectar is available – all designed to attract just the right pollinator. Some flowers have flat “landing pads” – like daisies, which are great for bigger insects, such as butterflies, and some flowers are shaped like tubes for tiny pollinators or ones with long tongues (yes, different pollinators can have different length tongues – we’ll learn about that in another blog post). Some flowers even have “landing pattern” marks – just like the tarmac at the airport!

Once the pollinator has picked its flower, it goes in for the nectar, gets covered with pollen and takes it to the next flower. The pollen is deposited, and fertilizes that flower which produces a seed and eventually a new plant/tree – the next generation begins and the cycle starts again. Of course, many bees also use some of that pollen for their own families, but again, more about that story later.

All in all, a very nifty set up – win-win, so to speak!

In coming weeks, we’ll talk more specifically about pollinators, plants and how we fit in too. In the meantime, observe the magic and miracles – listen for the buzz, smell those floral aromas, touch and feel the textures of the plants, flowers, soil and bark – and remember—one in three bites you taste are thanks to pollinators!!