The Foods that Bees Pollinate

Pollination by bees

Bees particularly pollinate one or more cultivars of over 66% of the world's crop species and contribute to one third of the food we eat. They don’t just provide us with fruits, nuts and vegetables, bees are also an essential element in the production of meat and other animal products.

Bees are essential for the pollination of many herbs, spices and oils used in baking and cooking.
Fish, Meat, Eggs and Dairy products

Animal products

Most animal feeds contain plant products which are highly reliant on bees for pollination. Without them Dairy, meat and egg products would be much harder to produce and would be significantly more expensive to buy.

Livestock reared for meat and milk don’t just graze on grass and cereals. Alfalfa, Peas and Soya beans are primary ingredients in animal pellet feeds fed to Cattle, Sheep and Pigs. In addition Silage and hay containing Alfalfa, clover and other legumes is also an important feed given to cattle. These ingredients are a source of protein essential for muscle growth and production of milk.

Poultry feeds are largely made up of maize and cereals which are wind pollinated but include Soya bean, Alfalfa and Peas (a more sustainable source of protein than Soya) as a protein source. Many poultry feeds given to laying hens contain Calendula petals, the orange pigment encourages brighter yolk colour.

Many Free Range poultry farms include grazing mixtures high in edible herbs for the birds to graze on. These are pollinated by bees. 

Cover crops of Sunflower, Kale and other tall herbs designed to provide cover and seeds for game birds and free range poultry rely on bees for pollination.

Fish and Aquaculture

Commercially reared fish are often fed on a diet of pelletized foods containing Soya bean, Lupine and Oil Seed Rape all pollinated by bees.

Bees essential for pollination of plants used in Animal feeds include the Alfalfa Leafcutter Megachile rotundata, Alkali Bee Nomia melenderi, flower bees Anthophora species which pollinate autumn sown beans and peas, Osmia bees, Bumble Bees and the Honey Bee which pollinate Oil seed rape and brassicas used in cover crops and forage crops.

Calendula used in poultry feeds to encourage strong egg yolk colour are pollinated by a number of solitary bees including Lassioglossum Andrena and Halictus species.

Fruits, Nuts and Vegetables

The majority of our fruits and vegetables are reliant on bees to some degree for pollination. Because we grow many crops outside of their native geographical regions it is often necessary to introduce honey bees to pollinate them but many crops grown outside their native regions will also be visited and pollinated by locally occurring wild bees.

Members of the Solanum family include Tomato, Potatoes, Yoji berries and Aubergine along with Capsicum’s like Peppers and Chillies are solely reliant on Bumble Bees for pollination. These plants require sonic vibrations of a specific frequency to dislodge the pollen grains from their tubular shaped Anthers. Throughout Europe millions of Buff Tailed Bumble Bee Bombus terrestris colonies are reared each year to supply poly tunnels and glass houses which grow these fruits. Elsewhere in the world other Bumble Bees are used including the Eastern Bumble Bee Bombus impatiens in North America.

Ericaceous fruits such as Blue Berry and Cranberry are pollinated by a number of bees including commercial managed honey bees. Each year thousands of hives are transported to farms growing these crops but the honey bee is an inefficient pollinator of these fruits. Dense numbers of hives have to be brought in to ensure a good fruit set. Bumble bees are far more efficient at pollinating these fruits and are of significant value. Other bees valuable as a pollinator of Blueberries include the solitary ‘Blue Berry Bee’ Habropda labriosa. Osmia ribifloris and Anthophora pilipes
The Rusty Patch Bumble Bee Bombus afinis and Megachile addenda are also of commercial importance in the production of Cranberry.

Raspberry are pollinated by a number of short tongued Bumble Bees, Osmia Bees and Honey Bees. In the UK the Buff Tailed Bumble Bee Bombus terrestris, Early Bumble Bee Bombus pratorum and Tree Bumble Bee Bombus hypnorum are important pollinators.

Blackberry are pollinated by a huge variety of insects including bees. Much of London’s honey comes from Bramble as the plant grows along the cities railway sidings and brownfield lands. Aside from Honey Bees other species to pollinate Blackberry include Bumble bees Megachile bees, Andrena Bees, Lassioglossum, Halictus, Hylaeus, Osma the Blue Carpenter bee Ceratina cynea and Xylocopa bees.

Strawberry are widely pollinated by Honey bees and Bumble Bees. The Bumble bee provides more efficient pollination of commercial strawberries leading to larger more uniform fruit set and are also easier to maintain inside poly tunnels and glass houses where Strawberry plants are grown under cover to encourage early cropping. In the open Strawberries also attract Lassioglossum, Andrena, Halictus, Osmia and Nomada bees.

Currants are pollinated predominantly by Queen Bumble Bees since they flower very early in the season.

Gooseberry are pollinated predominantly by Honey Bees but also pollinated by Early Bumble Bee and solitary species such as Andrena fulva. 

Orchard Fruits rely heavily on both Honey Bees and wild bees for pollination. Honey bees are brought into orchards in large numbers to ensure saturation of the area with bees and a good fruit set however honey bees are fair weather creatures and only fly in warm conditions. Many Solitary bees and Bumble bees will fly in cooler conditions either earlier in the day before temperatures have risen or during cooler weather when honey bees are reluctant to fly. Evidence shows that the presence of bumble bees and solitary bees alongside honey bees ensures a greater fruit set with larger more uniform fruit developing.

Osmia or Mason bees pollinate many orchard fruit crops. Osmia lignaria and Osmia rufra are commercially important pollination of Cherries Prunus species, Osmia cornuta pollinates Almonds and Osmia cornifrons pollinates Apples and Pears. 
Bumble Bees also visit Apples, Plums and Pears Quince and Medlar. Andrena Cineraria the Ashy Mining Bee also pollinates Cherries.

Citrus fruits like Orange, Tangerine, Limes and Grape fruit rely on Honey bees and bumble bees for pollination. Whilst some varieties of citrus are self-fertile and capable of pollinating themselves without bees, fruit set and yields are greatly improved by the presence of bees.

Cucurbits include Melons, Courgette, Pumpkin, Cucumber and Squash. They rely on commercial Honey bees, Wild Bumble Bees, Anthophora Bees and Halictus bees for pollination. In the USA Squash bees pollinate pumpkin and squash.

Many tropical fruits are commercially grown outside of their native range and are pollinated by managed honey bees. These fruits include Lyche, Avocado,  Guava and Passion Fruit. 

Pawpaw or paypaya fruit are pollinated predominantly by nocturnal moths but honey bees contribute to their pollination.

Many tropical fruits are also pollinated by Stingless Meliponini bees and Carpenter Bees Xylocopa.

Pineapple do not require pollination to set fruit but they do to set seed. They are predominantly pollinated by Hummingbirds.

Tamarin is a tropical Legume producing long pods containing edible seeds with a pulpy texture. They have many culinary uses including as an ingredient in Worchester Sauce. They are pollinated primarily by the Giant Honey Bee Apis dorsata.

Coconut grow in the tropical regions and are pollinated by native stingless bees of the family Meliponini as well as introduced Honey Bees.

Almonds are pollinated by Honey bees, Bumble Bees and Osmia Bees such as Osmia cornuta. Almonds are the single biggest export of the state of California which grows over 810,000 acres of the crop in vast orchards in the Central Valley. Each year 81 Billion honey bees from 1.6 Million hives pollinate over 2.5 Trillion Almond blooms in what is the largest insect migration on the Planet. 
Beekeepers truck these bees in from all across the United States on 6000 Lories.

Brazil Nuts are pollinated by colourful Orchid Bees Euglossini species. The females of these bees pollinate a variety of tropical plants as they collect pollen to feed their offspring. The males pollinate Orchid flowers which they visit to collect scented secretions they use to attract the females hence the common name Orchid Bees. 
Only Euglossini and larger Carpenter bees Xylocopa species can access the flowers as a robust body is needed to force entry into the tightly lipped flowers.

Peas and Beans are pollinated by a wide range of bees including Honey and Bumble Bees, Megachile and Osmia bees. The Hairy Footed Flower Bee Anthophora plumipes is commercially important in the pollination of early flowering peas and beans sown in autumn in Southern and Eastern England
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Vegetables don’t require pollination to develop the parts of the plant which we harvest and eat but in order to grow them in the first place we need viable seed to sow and bees are essential for this.

Brassicas include Cabbages, Mustard, Oil seed Rape, Turnip, Kale, Cauliflower, Broccoli and Sprouts are pollinated by a wide range of insects including Anthophora Bees, Honey Bees, Bumble Bees and Osmia Bees.

Carrots, Fennel, Parsnip and Parsley are pollinated by many small solitary bees from Andrena, Colletes, Hylaeus, Nomada and Lassioglossum species. Hoverflies and pollinating beetles also play a significant role in pollinating these vegetables. Larger pollinators like Honey Bees and Bumble bees are poor pollinators of these crops. 
The Carrot Mining Bee Andrena nitidiuscula is solely reliant on Carrot for pollen to feed its offspring.

Celery is pollinated by many Solitary bees as per carrot.

Beets include the sugar Beet, Beetroot and Leaf Beet or Chard. These are all pollinated by Honey Bees and solitary bees.

Potatoes belong to the Solanum family and are closely related to Tomato. They are pollinated almost exclusively by Bumble Bees for seed.

Sweet Potatoare not very closely related to the potato and other Solanums at all and in fact are more closely related to Morning Glory and Bindweed in the Ipomoea family. They are pollinated predominantly by Hummingbirds but also by bees. Bee species that specialises in Ipomoea flowers are Cemolobus ipomoeae a unique bee being the only living member of its genus and sadly critically endangered having suffered massive declines in its range and abundance. Bees in the Melitoma genus also pollinate these plants.

Herbs
Most of our common culinary herbs are pollinated by solitary bees and Honey Bees and short tongues bumble bees. These include Basil, Coriander, Oregano, Sage, Mint, Thyme, Lavender, Chives, Rosemary and Bay Lorrel.

Spices

Saffron the most expensive herb comes from an autumn flowering crocus Crocus sativus. They are pollinated by bees which visit them to collect pollen to feed to their offspring. 

Vanilla comes from the fruiting pods of a climbing tropical orchid which is pollinated by several species of tiny stingless bees of the Meliponini genus. These bees are social forming a large colony not unlike a Honey bee and also produce honey. Stingless bees are valuable pollinators throughout tropical America. Outside its native range Vanilla is commonly grown in Madagascar where it is largely hand pollinated. 

Cardamon is pollinated by Honey Bees.

Allspice Pimenta diotica is grown commercially and pollinated by Honey Bees however coming from the west Indies and Central America where Honey bees are not native they are likely pollinated by the native solitary and stingless bees.

Nutmeg comes from a tropical tree in the magnolia family. Magnolias are ancient forms of flowering plant and pollinated by primitive pollinators the Thripes, Beetles and Flies.

Star Anise Illicium verum is pollinated by Beetles.

Coffee comes from 2 species of plant. Arabica Coffee is a self fertile plant but pollination by Honey Bees improves yields and fruit set. Coffee robusta is an inferior coffee and dependent upon bees for pollination. 33 species of wild bees pollinate coffee beans.

Tea comes from an evergreen bush in the Camelia family. Its flowers are pollinated by bees.

Chocolate comes from the fruit of the Cocoa plant. Cocoa plantations support a wide variety of bees but appear to be mostly pollinated by tiny midges.


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