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Taking in a bee-witching flower show

August 28, 2014


It’s a beautiful show this flower is putting on in an East Vancouver back alley — a limited run in fact that probably closes in a matter of days or weeks.

The intended audience however was nowhere to be seen. It’s certainly wasn’t me — it was bees!

Everything you see (and a lot of things you can’t) is designed to entice bees to spend some quality time deep in this booming flower. It’s the purest kind of sex appeal. The flower is appealing to the bee so the flower can reproduce.

Will pollinate for food

Flowers have two things bees want and need: pollen and nectar.

Nectar is a sugar-rich liquid produced by glands deep inside the blooms of flowering plants. It gives bees energy as they forage and they collect it for their colony to make honey, their imperishable food source.

Pollen is the male component produced by flowers in the form of tiny little granules. These must come in contact with a female part to effect fertilization. Rather than simply allowing the male and female parts of all flowers to um, go fu^k themselves, nature demands genetic variety and more often than not requires the pollen from one flower to be used to fertilize another flower of the same type.

Happily, bees see pollen as another essential food source (pollen is about 40 percent protein). In the course of collecting it, bees tend to get a bit covered in the stuff and some of that pollen will naturally rub off on each flower they visit in the course of a foraging trip.

This is an effective method of fertilization because bees habitually stick to visiting one kind of flower at a time. Only when they can’t find any more of one type do they switch to a different  flower.

Nature gets the bee coming and going

In the case of the flower I photographed today, even if a bee didn’t want pollen and only came for the nectar, things have been so arranged that the bee couldn’t get at the sweet stuff located deep in the bloom without brushing past the stamen. The stamen which is thickly covered in pollen — some of which will certainly stick to the bee.

How some of this manipulation rubs off online

The bee’s role in pollination has several illustrative parallels. One of them is, believe it or not, our use of the Internet and social media.

Consider when a person bounces from one Google service to another — from Gmail to Picasa to Search to Google Maps and so on. The person — like the bee — imagines they do this because they want to — because they’re getting something they value.

Google (and all social media for that matter) has gone to the same trouble as nature to make sure people feel this way.

The fact is, all this bouncing around between services generates valuable social metadata that makes money for Google. People don’t think much about this side of social media anymore than bees know they are fertilizing plants. Click the images to enlarge them.


Just fallin’ with pollen!


From → East Vancouver

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