National Pollinator Week: Insects and Trees

 In Community, Trees

It’s Nation­al Pol­li­na­tor Week! A pol­li­na­tor is an ani­mal that moves pollen from the anther of a plant to the stig­ma, which brings about fer­til­iza­tion of the plant. Peo­ple often think of pol­li­na­tors and flow­ers, but did you know trees need pol­li­na­tion, too?

Near­ly all of the conifers in our area includ­ing pine, spruce, and hem­lock rely on wind pol­li­na­tion. Broadleaved trees like birch, cot­ton­wood, elm, oak, and wal­nut rely on wind pol­li­na­tion, too. How­ev­er, there are many trees that rely on pol­li­na­tion by insects (as well as birds and bats in some parts of the U.S.) because insect pol­li­na­tion is more effi­cient and direct.

Among the best known insect-pol­li­nat­ed trees are apples, bass­wood, cher­ries, black locust, catal­pa, horse chest­nut, tulip tree, and the wil­lows. Just to name a few! These trees tend to have fra­grant (some­times even stinky), large, or oth­er­wise showy flow­ers that attract the pol­li­na­tors either by sight or smell. The pollen pro­duced by these trees tends to be slight­ly sticky, less dust-like, and pro­duced lat­er as the leaves are forming.

The most impor­tant insect pol­li­na­tors are flies, bee­tles, moths, and but­ter­flies. Par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant is the order known as Hymenoptera, which includes bees.

Using insects for pol­li­na­tion is a bit more tar­get­ed approach than wind pol­li­na­tion. Nev­er­the­less, flow­ers that rely on insects need to make an invest­ment to ensure suc­cess­ful fer­til­iza­tion. They must adver­tise them­selves, reward the pol­li­na­tor, and pro­vide a suit­able land­ing spot. They must also make sure that pollen is trans­ferred onto the insect.

Regard­less of wind or ani­mal pol­li­na­tion, the goal is to pro­duce seeds (in the form of cones, fruits, nuts, and berries) that will ger­mi­nate new trees for many gen­er­a­tions to come. But in the end, it all starts with pollen. The next time you see a beau­ti­ful flow­er­ing tree, be sure to thank the pollinators!

If you’d like to learn more about the trees around us, con­sid­er tak­ing a Tree ID Walk with Tree Pitts­burgh! Teach­ers, check out our Teacher Resources page for lessons as well as oppor­tu­ni­ties to have Tree Pitts­burgh vis­it your school to talk about pol­li­na­tors and more.

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