Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Diverse Pollinators

By Kaitlin Henderson

Duke Gardens is filled with diverse plants. Our horticulturists and curators select the plants to grow here based on a number of factors, from producing beautiful flowers to belonging to a natural ecosystem. And Duke Gardens is not just for plants. All sorts of animals live here as well. Many of those animals depend on the plants for food and shelter, and some of these animals are just as necessary in the plants' lives. Pollinators such as bees are among those animals.

honey bees (Apis mellifera)

Bees might not be everyone's favorite insect, but they're an incredibly important part of the Gardens' ecosystem. (Not to mention that they, too, would much rather go about that business peacefully, without human interaction.) They eat the nectar and pollen of flowers, and in turn they transfer some of that pollen between different plants.

bumble bee (genus Bombus)

Duke Gardens is home to many different kinds of bees, from the more well known honey bees that you'll see in the Discovery Garden to solitary ones like mason bees that make their homes in hollow stems or holes they burrow in the ground.

flower fly (family Syrphidae)

Different bee species like to visit different plants, and having a diverse range of plants like we do in the Gardens means we can support many different kinds of bees. Squash bees, for example, only visit squash flowers, while honey bees aren't so picky. And of course those different kinds of bees being supported also help that diverse range of plants thrive by pollinating them! Even though both squash and honey bees can pollinate squash flowers, the squash bees are much better at it.

yellow jacket (genus Vespula)

Pollinators aren't limited to bees, though. Many types of flies, wasps, butterflies and moths also help to move pollen from one flower to another, like the flower fly and yellow jacket in these photos. Yes, while we tend to be less fond of them than bees, yellow jackets also play the important role of pollinators.

It's a wonderful ecosystem relationship, rich with life, and it's great to have here at the Gardens!

Kaitlin Henderson is a graduate student in Duke's Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program.

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