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When you think of a bee, what do you imagine? A lot of people would say that they think of the bee sitting on a flower. It’s a classic image but it makes you wonder; what do bees get from flowers that is so important and why do they spend so much time around them?
The main reason that bees are so attracted to flowers is that they’re a food source. Bees collect nectar and pollen which they use for food, energy, feeding their young and making honey.
But the flowers also benefit from the presence of bees since they are one the main pollinators. Without bees, many flower species just wouldn’t survive. Let’s learn more.
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Bees flock to flowers all day every day. If you watch them, it’s pretty much all they’ll do. Worker or forager bees have a responsibility to collect nectar and pollen and return it to the hive. However, there are many solitary bees that also need these things and can be seen on flowers throughout the spring and summer.
There are a small handful of solitary species but most bees live in huge colonies that can number up to 60,000! The size of the colony depends on several factors including the particular species, the amount of food and even the local climate.
Bees feed on pollen and nectar. Nectar is a liquid that’s incredibly sweet and it’s not only attractive to bees. There are several other animals, insects and birds such as the hummingbird that can’t get enough of nectar.
It’s the worker bees from each colony that will head out in search of nectar and as they collect it, they store it in a little pocket-like structure known as a crop.
Pollen, on the other hand, is a powder and this powder is what plants use for reproduction. It is made by the male parts of the plant and only by flowering plants. When bees are out collecting nectar, they get covered in pollen in the process. The pollen sticks to their body and legs which are covered in tiny hairs that the pollen can latch onto. In some bee species, there are even little pollen baskets on the legs; how cute!
Once the bee has finished collecting pollen and nectar from lots of flowers, it will return back to the hive. Here, the bee regurgitates any nectar it has eaten along with special enzymes. This ‘mix’ is then left for a few days, exposed to the air and the result is honey. While many people think that bees produce honey only for humans, what they’re actually doing is making their own food for the survival of the colony. It was only when we realized how sweet and tasty honey was that we started harvesting it for ourselves.
The bees will also mix nectar with pollen to create what is known as beebread. The primary reason for this substance is to feed the larvae in the hive.
What may come as a surprise is that not all bee species collect pollen. It’s easy to assume that this is a bee-wide behavior but some bees, like the cuckoo bumblebee, never gather pollen. What’s more, they don’t have pollen baskets. But they still need pollen so what do they do?
Well, in this species, the female will lay her eggs in a host nest and rely on them to provide all of the nutrients and care that her young needs. What a way to get out of the responsibilities of parenthood!
Nomad bees also behave in the same way, laying their eggs in a host nest. Mining bees are notorious for this and once the eggs hatch, they’ll consume the food made by the host parents while the real parent goes off and continues the cycle.
Bees certainly get a lot from plants but it isn’t only them who benefit. Without bees, many flowering plants would have an incredibly hard time surviving. Bees collect pollen and aid the plants to reproduce through a process known as pollination.
Plants are, as we are well aware, static, and cannot go in search of a mate like humans and animals. Instead, they have to rely on other creatures to take their DNA from one place to another. These animals are known as vectors and the bee is one of them.
It’s thought that bees are responsible for pollinating as many as 80% of all human crops in the world. Out of 100 crop species, bees are the main pollinators for more than 70 of these. So, it’s not only flowers that wouldn’t survive without, humans would struggle for food as well!
The male DNA of flowering plants is contained within their pollen. Bees collect this from one flower and then transfer it to another of the same species, thereby spreading the genetic material and allowing for reproduction. Without pollen from another, the plant would not be able to produce seeds and would ultimately die.
There are so many different species of flowering plants and many of them are pollinated by bees. Moreover, our buzzing little friends need our help to provide them with as many flowers as possible for food so that they will survive.
You can plant flowers in your garden for the bees but you’ll want to carefully consider which plants you choose. Some are not as attractive to bees as others and there are even some plants that will deter them.
For starters, consider that bees have very good color sight so they’ll gravitate towards bright flowers such as purples, blues, yellows, and even white flowers.
But you also have to consider that the type of flowers you grow will attract different species. Not all bee species feed on the same flowers as the size of their tongue affects how and what they can eat. For example, if a bee has a smaller tongue, it’ll typically feed off smaller flowers.
Another thing to consider is that all flowers have different scents. Where one bee might be attracted to the scent of a certain flower, another species may not want to go anywhere near it.
And if that doesn’t give you enough food for thought, consider this; not all bees feed in summer! Most bee species will be active during the spring and summer but there are a few that will be buzzing around in the colder months. For these species, it can also be a good idea to plant winter flowering plants so there’s food all year round.
For all of these reasons, variety really is key. If you’re going to plant flowers for bees in your backyard then choose as many different colors, sizes, and scents as possible. Also, choose plants that will flower at different times but one thing that they must all have in common is being native to your part of the world.
It’s been shown that pollinators, like bees, prefer native plants as they are part of the same ecosystem. What’s more, looking after native plants is far easier as you won’t need to provide any special care.
However, you should keep in mind that there are cultivars of native plants called Nativars which are much fancier. Still, these are generally not as attractive to native bee species so it’s best to avoid them where possible.
In North America, there are more than 3600 species of bees! The smallest bee in the world is native to the southwestern deserts of the United States and measures just 2 mm in length. It’s called the fairy bee. But there are also much larger species, such as some carpenter bees that can grow up to 4 cm! But regardless of size, all bee species have one thing in common; they need native plants. Here are some of the best options for North American gardens.
- Serviceberry bushes
- Early flowering trees like cherry and plum
- Bee balm
We’ve all watched a bee buzzing around the flowers in the garden. It’s pretty normal behavior but it makes you wonder why they love flowers so much and what bees get from flowers.
It’s all about nectar and pollen which bees use to make food for the colony and for their young. But the plants benefit too as the bees will spread pollen from flower to flower, enabling them to reproduce.