When I mention pollen, most people think about allergies. And it’s true that pollen released from trees, weeds and grasses may trigger them, or seasonal allergic rhinitis, sometimes referred to as hay fever.
There are two types of pollen, however, lighter pollen carried by the wind over long distances and heavier, tackier pollen, which is not. It’s the lighter pollen that is responsible for most allergies.
The vast majority of seed-bearing plants produce the latter, which needs to be carried from flower to flower, mostly by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. While foraging for nectar, a pollinator, such as a bee, will rub up against the pollen within a flower. The pollen sticks to the insect’s body and is then transferred to other flowers.
There’s been a lot of concern lately about pollinators, especially honeybees mysteriously dying off, and about habitat for pollinators becoming reduced by urban development, pesticides, disease and climate change.
According to USDA, three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on animal pollinators. Some scientists estimate that one out of every three bites of food we eat couldn’t exist without bees, butterflies, moths, birds, bats, beetles and other insects.
Pollinators play a beneficial role in the production of apples, alfalfa, beans, blackberries, blueberries, broccoli, cucumbers, melons, pears, plums, onions, raspberries, soybeans, squash, strawberries and numerous other food crops. When healthy populations of pollinators are present, yields and quality are increased both in agriculture, where they are also important in production of many of the plants that we rely on for dietary fats and oils (i.e. canola), fibers (i.e. cotton) and for medicines (i.e. goldenseal), and in the wild where they play a vital role in maintaining natural communities.