Sustainable seed production of native wildflowers depends on pollination, the transfer of pollen from male to female parts of flowers. Nearly 80% of all flowering plant species depend on animal and insect pollination for reproduction (Hopwood, 2010). For several wildflower species, reproductive gain with animal and insect pollinators has shown to increase seed yields by approximately 110x when compared to wind and self-pollination mechanisms (Cane, 2008). Certain wildflower varieties are, in fact, dependent upon pollinators for all of their seed production, and fortunately, many native bees and other insects may appear where wildflowers are planted (Shock, Shock, & Feibert, 2012).
Numerous insects and animals are capable of pollination. However, bees may be the most sustainable selections for commercial crop and wildflower (forb) seed production. Bees are particularly efficient and effective in pollination for forb seed production because they retrieve pollen and nectar in very little time (“Wings at work: Butterflies pollinate plants, but in ways different from all others» Naples Daily News”). Consequently, bees assist production of native wildflowers by dramatically increasing seed yields and can help in effectively restoring rangeland.
Certain bees specialize in pollination of several native wildflower varieties such as the Fernleaf Biscuitroot or Lomatium dissectum (Jim Cane, USDA-ARS Pollinating Insects–Biology, Management, and Systematics Research Unit). An example of a specialized pollinator includes the Diadasia diminuta (Globe Mallow Bee). These bees collect pollen exclusively from the globemallow plants (Sphaeralcea) and facilitate effective seed production (“Celebrating Wildflowers - Pollinator of the Month - Globe Mallow Bee,”). Globe mallow bees have spontaneously colonized globemallow plants being grown at the OSU Malheur Experiment Station in Ontario, OR.
Other popular pollinator options range from social honey bees and bumble-bees to nonsocial native bees, nonsocial bumble bees, and ground-nesting bees (Cane, 2008). Selecting the right pollinator for a specific wildflower can significantly improve pollination efficacy and forb seed yields. But often the right pollinators will spontaneously appear.
Unmanaged native bees are key factors in the effective production of agricultural products and wildflowers, but are frequently overlooked as essential pollinators. Native bees are well adapted to their habitats and offer advantages apart from social honey bees and bumble-bees. Wild nonsocial bee species vary throughout the Intermountain West, specializing in pollination of wildflowers for their natural habitats. There are several well- known wild bee species that frequently visit wildflowers in the Intermountain West, including the Nomia melander and the Bombus huntii species. However, most wild bee pollinators have not been documented. An estimated 10,000 feral bee species have yet to be recognized (Cane, 2011).
Pollination results in large-scale positive biological consequences for ecosystem, animal, and human survival. Pollinating insects, specifically bees, are essential components of overall ecosystem health and biodiversity, and keys to sustainable agriculture (Hopwood, 2010). Without pollinators, global ecosystems and agricultural productivity would be forsaken.
See Hives for Hire for more information on bees and their benefits to wildflowers, as well as how to incorporate them into forb seed production. Please visit Plants for Pollinators in Oregon and Plants for Pollinators in the Intermountain West for more information.