It’s December and as Christmas approaches and people across the world are busy with the buying presents and preparations for the all-important Christmas day feast, we take a look at some of the bees which make Christmas happen!
The Holly & the Ivy
Our ancestors believed that evergreen plants were magical because they didn’t die back in winter and they are still used extensively in Christmas decorations. Key festive foliage includes Holly which is pollinated by Honey bees and Andrena mining bees and Ivy which is pollinated by a wide variety of insects, but also has its own special pollinator, the Ivy Mining Bee Colletes hedera (our Bee of the Month for September) which only collects pollen from Ivy and times its emergence to the opening of the Ivy flowers.
Holly is pollinated by Honey bees and the Andrena mining bees
Candles bring warmth and festivity to the home at Christmas. It’s not just the wax used to make candles which comes from bees, Christmas candles are often scented with festive spices such as Vanilla, Frankincense and Myrrh. Vanilla comes from the pod of a tropical climbing orchid and is pollinated by stingless Meliponini bees, whilst Frankincense and Myrrh are both derived from the resin of African trees which are insect-pollinated and visited by bees.
As we touched on last month with the Thanksgiving Turkey, domestic Turkeys are fed poultry pellets which are made up predominantly of cereals, Soya and/or field peas which are highly reliant on Megachile and Osmia bees for pollination. Free-range Turkeys will graze and forage on fields of flowering crops and among orchard fruit trees where they can peck at fallen apples. These crops are heavily reliant on Honey Bees, Andrena and Osmia bees for pollination.
No Turkey would be complete without stuffing, which typically contains onions, herbs and spices all pollinated by Bees. The Onion Yellow Faced Bee Hylaeus punctulatissimus collects its pollen exclusively from onions. Still common in parts of continental Europe this species is sadly thought to now be extinct in the UK. In the US a small mining bee called Andrena prunorum is one of the most efficient pollinators of commercially-farmed onions there. Other ingredients often included in Christmas stuffing mixes which are pollinated by Bees include Chestnuts, Cranberry, Citrus fruits, Dates, Apricots and Rosemary.
The marmite of vegetables, Sprouts and other leafy vegetables in the cabbage family feature heavily in Christmas feasts and are pollinated by a variety of insects including bees, beetles, Hoverflies and lepidoptera. In the UK farmers often rely on managed honey bees for pollination but there are a number of solitary bees which are also efficient pollinators. Recent research suggests that wild bees and not honey bees are actually our most important pollinators of these crops alongside night-flying moths.
The smell of chestnuts roasting on an open fire is a sure sign that winter and Christmas has arrived. Chestnuts can be boiled or roasted and are often used in stuffing mixtures. Many British bees visit the flowers which offer early summer nectar and pollen when most other trees have finished blooming.
British bees enjoy the flowers of the chestnut trees
No turkey day dinner is complete without Cranberry Sauce. Cranberries are mostly grown in the northern USA and Canada and require ‘buzz pollination’ which only a select few bees are capable of achieving. Among them The Rusty Patch Bumble Bee Bombus afinis and the solitary bee Megachile addenda but it is the Cranberry melitta bee Melitta Americana which is most important in the production of commercial Cranberries. The Cranberry Melitta feeds its offspring exclusively on Cranberry pollen and is often the most numerous wild bee on large Cranberry farms. Unlike the honey bees which are shipped in to pollinate cranberry fields these bees are flower-faithful and far more efficient at pollinating.
Sadly the Rusty Patch Bumble bee is now facing extinction. In the last decade its numbers have plummeted by more than 90%. European Bumble bee diseases are thought to be the cause of their decline, accidentally introduced to North America on imported Buff Tailed Bumble bees from Europe which were used to pollinate tomatoes in glass houses. The decline of the Rusty Patch Bumble bee is a timely reminder of the consequences of living in a global society filled with international trade and imports which peaks around Christmas time. All the more reason to shop locally this Christmas and ‘buy British’ supporting local beekeepers, farmers and producers – Bee Good being one of them