The Buzz On Bees and Flowers

The sky is blue, blue, blue and carrying big white cotton clouds that are reminiscent of a giant feather bed. The leaves on the sugar maples are in full form while those on the white ash are just breaking bud. Still the surrounding country side is emerald green and I just can’t help but take deep breaths of this spring air that seems to bring life into every cell of my body. Birds sing everywhere, mostly in defense of their territories, but the chorus of the many species is a symphony indeed.

I am standing by an apple tree in our orchard. It is a family orchard that has a half a dozen apple trees, a few pear trees, a cherry tree, and twenty highbush blueberry shrubs. The blueberries are to my left and just entering full blossom and this brandy wine apple in front of me is in full flower. There are perhaps fifty painted lady butterflies that have been attracted to the nectar, now in full swing, on the apple blossoms. They dance from pink blossom to blossom, staying long enough to collect this sweet juice and unintentionally carrying pollen that will help to produce the apple fruit. This yearly ritual is a perfect example of symbiosis between a plant an animal. The butterfly needs the nectar for survival, the apple needs the pollination for future generations. There was a time before flowering plants when spore producing plants dominated the plant world. Some ferns, horsetails, and clubmoss plants were huge. These plants, known as allies, could reach tree size; some being hundreds of feet tall. During the Carboniferous era, some 370 million years ago, these plants were the primary botanical residents on a very volatile Earth. This volatility helped to form their reproductive system that utilized spores that fell onto the soil. These spores grew into nonchlorophytic plants that developed beneath ground level. It was these nonchlorophytic plants that bred and formed the green vascular plant that rooted itself in the earth and grew into this warm, even hot, carbon filled atmosphere. It is the remains of these plants from which we get our crude oil and gas reserves today. The advantage these plants had was the earthen buffer during their breeding cycle. Subterranean development of each new plant was a decided advantage in an era of volcanoes, earth quakes, and a heavy gaseous atmosphere.

About a hundred and fifty million years later flowering plants appeared. The atmosphere was much more settled; insects, mammals, and birds abound and dinosaurs rule but will completely disappear in the next five, or so, million years. The earth, as we know it today, has begun. Codependent relationships between plants and animals continue to develop, ever so slowly, and the blueprint was set for what we have today.

All of these strange and overwhelming facts run through my head as I stare at the apple blossoms. I am witnessing nothing less than a miracle and I am awed that what seems so simple is the result of the most complicated series of events imaginable. The wisdom of our planet is found in its sheer ability to change with time; almost endless time considering our planet is four and a half billion years old.

One recent change is the tremendous decline in honey bees. These imported bees were our primary pollinators for the last one hundred and fifty years but as I stand here I can see a few bumble bees, a few mason bees, and a few miner bees along with the painted lady butterfly working the nectar in the apple blossoms. We are likely all aware that there has been a world wide bee colony collapse when it comes to the honey bee populations. It is a matter of grave concern for those in agriculture. While it is true that many crops are wind pollinated, for instance almost everything in the grass family like corn, it is also true that many of our flowering crops are dependent on natural insect pollinators. Bee colony collapse has been going on for about ten years. It has been the subject of serious study. Some of the planet’s best ecologists and entomologists have been dedicating their careers to solving this mystery and we still do not know the cause. One major theory suggests that honey bees have lost their genetic diversity. This may have been caused by large bee breeders that took over the markets and lessened the genetic stock. Another theory blames the collapse on pesticides and herbicides. One study within the pesticide theory suggests that bees are getting lost and not returning to their hive because the chemicals somehow impact their homing instincts and leave the bees in a state of confusion. There is no absolute proof of the cause of this terrible malady yet but it is very serious turn of events and should not be taken likely.

The fact is that for millions of years wild bees did all of the necessary pollination for the natural world. These creatures can do the job for at least some of our crops, unless of course, wild bees become effected by whatever is causing bee collapse as well. New evidence points to this being a very real possibility. In Great Britain scientists have documented a strong decline in bumble bee populations, likely caused by insecticides.

I take a deep breath and look around me. The blossoms, all pink and white, fill the air with a sweet aroma. Wild bees and butterflies fly from flower to flower in pursuit of their nectar. The sky is still blue. The trees are still green. And the birds are still singing.

And at this precise point in time I am happy to appreciate the moment. Life is beautiful.

But I can’t stop wondering what the future holds for these plants that depend on insect pollinators for future generations.

Written for the Heath Herald in May of 2012

  • naquillity

    hello Bill~ what a great post. that first paragraph alone drew me in. i think pesticides could be a strong indicator of what happened to the bees. we just don’t know what effect these chemicals could have over long periods of time for these bees. i hate to see them dwindling, disappearing. the more humans progress the less i see of wildlife it seems. everything seems to be taken away for people’s growth. it’s sad. anyway… good to be back here reading again. have a great night~

    also, thanks for stopping by my blog while i’ve been absent for so long. it didn’t go unnoticed that you stopped by.

  • Wild_Bill

     It is so nice to hear from you!  Certainly this crisis with apiary and wild bees is a force to be reckoned with.  Intuitively I think that the problem is related to the use of agricultural chemicals but there is no scientific proof that can put the blame on these as of yet.  I do think that few people understand the impact of losing a significant part of our insect pollination, which is sad in itself.

    I really like your blog and always look forward to new posts.  Thank you very much for stopping by.

  • Sunisaxeman

    Hi Bill

    A great post and a somber message, I was out gardening on the weekend and while we had lots of bees I regognize that if this continues we could have huge problems with food production.


  • Wild_Bill

     Yes.  The real problem may be introducing products that may hurt the environment before they are thoroughly researched.  There is such pressure by big corporations on the environmental agencies of the government that mistakes may be made. 

  • Sandy

    My neighbor has hives in his back yard, and last summer, the bees were in my garden all the time. So far this spring, I haven’t  seen them at all. I know lots of trees are blooming now, so they must be getting plenty of pollen, but I do miss seeing them. We are, however, getting plenty of wild bees, and more butterflies already this spring than all of last year.
     What the future holds is definitely a concern. There have been so many changes in the weather, and wildlife since I moved to the the northeastern part of the country, I suspect that life will go on, but with a new set of  pollinators.

  • Teresa Evangeline

    An excellent post. The last photo is very cool. Is it just me, or is there a face of a dog on the back of the butterfly?

  • Wild_Bill

     There is something quite pleasant and mesmerizing about watching bees working in a garden or orchard.  I used to keep bees but developed a rather intense sensitivity to bee stings.  I miss watching them dance as they land on the platform in front of the hive.

  • Wild_Bill

     It took me a while to see the face of the dog but after looking at a different angle I picked it up. Pretty cool!

  • Montucky

    This and many other developments point toward the effect that human “progress” is having on the natural world and I find it very scary! I think about the killing of the goose that laid the golden egg.

  • Wild_Bill

    Humans certainly are capable and have ruined much in the natural world.  In the long run the result may be that we exterminate ourselves and much of the beauty of the earth but the earth recovers without us.  Clearly the message that we have to wake up and understand is that we have to change our ways.  Only the average citizen can do this.  Corporations are too greedy.

  • Amber Galusha

    Life is beautiful, Bill, as is this post. Your words took me back to my childhood when I used to walk through the orchards near my home in Cottonwood. As a young girl, I loved to listen to the the hum of the bees working feverishly. And I still adore the mesmerizing quality honey bees possess. If you are interested, here is a link to blog post I wrote last year that was subsequently picked up by a local newspaper. Some folks found it interesting and encouraging. I hope you enjoy reading it …

  • Wild_Bill

     Hi Amber,

    We are relatively sure that the cause is nicotinoids, a part of a pesticide that impacts the nervous system of bees.  Seems it is impacting bumble bees now too.  But it is uplifting to hear that an ice cream company is contributing positively to help with the cause, proving that not all corporations are terrible. 

    Thanks for the great link!  One scoop at a time, I like that!

  • Barbara

    What a thoughtful and wonderful essay Bill – I too love to go into the tiny orchard on my property if you can call three trees an orchard, and watch and listen to bees and butterflies and all the nectar loving insects – but this year, we’re out of luck here in central Ontario. Actually in much of Ontario. Climate change must be blamed for something that none of our most elderly residents believe ever happened before, not in their lifetime – no blossoms on the trees… there were a few, but so few that there may only be enough apples left to make a pie or two. Certainly there are none on my trees, nor on my nearest neighbour’s. The Mexican and Jamaican farm workers who come to Canada to work hard and make their yearly living in our orchards, were sent home. There is little work, only mowing grass and keeping the sprays regular to prevent mold… It was the freeze thaw, hot summer in February, and then freeze off and on again right through May that did it.

    But the bees! This year my local beekeeper says their bees are stronger than ever – at least so far, though I’ve been hearing dreadful stories lately about bees crawling out of the hives and dying or dying around the mouth of the hive before they even enter. Nicotine based insecticides used by farmers who don’t plough but plant next year’s crop by driving the seed deep into the ground is being blamed… many farmers got on the fields to plant corn and other seed crops very early.

    Such a sad state of affairs.

    I loved this post though, and felt myself standing beside you listening to the bees, and smelling the fragrance of fruit blossoms. I’ll continue to hope that humankind might learn and change its ways. But not with a lot of belief that this will really happen. It’s much too late.

    But as you pointed out this planet has evolved through many amazing stages… ultimately it’s like it will change and survive. Whether mankind will? Your guess is as good as mine.

    Thanks for a beautiful read. enjoyed it thoroughly.

  • Wild_Bill

     Thanks Barbara.  Yes, the power of Gaia will prevail.  This third planet from the sun is uniquely qualified to sustain life.  Humans have to make the choice as to whether or not they want to be part of the equation; a subject that I will tackle in a soon to come story.

  • Out On The Prairie

    Sad we can’t solve an obvious manmade problem. I have worked planting more attracter plants in my gardens to aid pollination and add beauty.

  • Wild_Bill

     We can resolve it.  Big $ won’t let us solve it.  That’s the really sad part.  Let’s just stop using nicotinoids for two years and see if the bee populations start recovering.  My bet is that they will.

    Attractor plants are wonderful for many pollinating insects and invertebrates.  I’m glad to hear they help you to enjoy your gardens!

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