Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male parts of flowers to the female parts so that fertilization occurs and a seed is born.
But not all flowers are the same. In some plant or crop types, male and female parts are positioned together inside the same flower. In others, separate male and female flowers require pollen to be moved to a completely different plant for seed to be created. And in some cases, it’s somewhere in the middle. But when pollen needs to be moved from one flower to another, or from one plant to a different one, bees can be extremely useful if not critical.
Around 800 different kinds of bees are found in Canada and almost all of them pollinate. Dozens of crops are grown here and most need to be pollinated to produce what we eat or feed to our animals. But how many of these crops need to be pollinated by bees? And, of the foods we eat, which require pollination by bees and which don’t?
Interestingly, the world’s top five food/feed crops — rice, wheat, soybeans, corn and potatoes — don’t need insects to pollinate them. They either fertilize themselves, or their pollen is light enough to be carried on the wind to neighbouring plants. Of the next five most important world staples, only cassava and sweet potato flowers are visited by bees and other insects, however the plants are propagated by root or shoot cuttings, so it’s not critical.
However, besides meat, the rest of our diet is not, and should not, be restricted to the starch and protein that these staple foods provide. Much of our nutrition comes from fruits and vegetables, and the vast majority of those are pollinated by bees. In fact, many of them need insects to pollinate them, or they simply won’t produce edible foods.
The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) has estimated that of the slightly more than 100 global crop species that provide 90 per cent of food supplies for 146 of the world’s countries, 71 are bee-pollinated (mainly by wild bees). That is a significant number and a good reason to do everything we can to protect bees.