Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Love your Pollinators!

You may be following the worrying news that honey bees are mysteriously disappearing in the US and worldwide, possibly due to a mix of diseases and insecticides. Here in California this seriously threatens our fruit and nut tree crops that depend on bees as pollinators. In fact, Einstein was quoted as saying if the bees go we'd last four years. (The photo at left shows a honey bee swarm we witnessed during the Summer Program at the Garden for the Environment. Click on it to see it bigger - can you see the bees?)

In our Urban Sprouts' school gardens it is obvious how important pollinators are to the health of our garden ecosystem! This week at June Jordan we reviewed plant reproduction and the important role pollinators play in the lives of many plants. Here is a photo of a daffodil we dissected in order to see all the parts involved in sexual reproduction.

You can see the stamens (male parts), each holding the pollen at their tips, and the pistil in the center (female part) the leads down to the ovary below. We have opened the ovary so you can see the seeds forming inside. The ovary holds the eggs, which once pollinated, grow into seeds. And the ovary swells to become . . . you guessed it, fruit!

Which leads to our favorite saying, how can you recognize a fruit? It has seeds inside!

So the point is that we need pollinators to get the pollen from one flower onto the pistil of another flower. Without pollinators like bees, many of our favorite plants can't produce flowers (or reproduce themselves in order to survive). For examples, think of anything you like to eat that is a fruit or a seed! Apples, pears, almonds, walnuts, tomatoes, squash, corn and even peas need pollination!