Last summer I took dozens of photos of sunflowers, but this one was my favorite. It’s got the glorious golden color of the rays and the intricate swirl of the central disk, but can you see what else it has? That dark dot just off the bottom of the disk–that’s a bee. Bees and flowers: a really important partnership.
We all know how it works, right? Bees visit flowers to get nectar, a sugary liquid the plants produce just for them. The bees use it to make the honey they feed to their larvae. What the flowers get out of it is a visit from the bees, because their fuzzy bodies also pick up pollen from male flower parts and transfer it to female ones. From this fertilization comes the seeds that the plant uses to reproduce, and that we humans enjoy toasted with a little salt.
The relationship between flowers and bees is an ancient one. In graduate school, while studying perception, one thing we explored was how different the world looks and sounds to other creatures. Pigeons hear sounds miles lower than we do. Some bacteria sense the earth’s magnetic field. Bees see light in the UV range, and flowers use this ultraviolet light to guide bees directly to where the nectar, and the pollen, can be found. It’s fascinating, and humbling, to remember that the beauty of a flower isn’t about us, but about the bee. A dandelion blossom to our eyes is a bright but uniform gold; to a bee, it’s pale at the edges with increasingly intense color toward the center, so the bee doesn’t waste time and energy getting to the good stuff. The plant and the bee rely on each other in an age-old partnership.
The relationship between flowers and bees is also a vital one. Bees are important in the pollination of wild plants and lots of farm crops. But their numbers are dropping, and in some regions of the world plants are declining as a result. For bumblebees, the primary reason for the decline in numbers is a decrease in habitat as we humans wipe out meadows and wildflowers, so saving them is really up to us. And saving the bees is crucial. If suddenly there were no bees, it would be a global catastrophe. Not long ago someone posted an image with a closeup of a bee and the words: “If we go, we’re taking you with us.” If this is an exaggeration, it’s not by much. We and the bees need each other, in another age-old partnership.
So there I was on that summer afternoon, enjoying the extravagant color of the field of sunflowers, when my heart was lifted even more on seeing this hardworking bee out there gathering food for its family and, along the way, making food for me. Flower, bee, and people, working together.
Let’s keep it that way.
Posted in response to the WordPress photo challenge: Partners