Pollen, Insects and You: Things to Know Before You Die
Without flying insects like butterflies, wasps and bees, flowering plants would have a hard time surviving. To reproduce, flowers create seeds, which eventually grow into new plants. Seeds don't develop spontaneously; they develop after pollen, sticky spores found on the stamen of a plant, come in contact with the pistil. This process is called pollination.
Unlike humans and other animals, flowering plants can self-pollinate, since they have both the male (stamen) and female (pistil) reproductive parts. Self-pollination happens when pollen from a plant comes in contact with its own pistil. Seeds are produced but usually make for weaker plants. Cross-pollination occurs when the pollen from one plant is carried to the pistil of another plant. This type of pollination can produce the hardiest offspring, but it's difficult for most flowering plants to pull off [source: Missouri Botanical Garden]. Some flowering plants, like dandelions, adapted to produce spores that are easily carried off by the wind (or the strong breath of a child). Others get by with a little help from their friends in the insect world.
When winged insects look for nectar (a sugar water-like substance found in flowers), they generally climb around the reproductive organs of flowers to get it. Since there's only so much nectar to be found in a flower, insects will travel from flower to flower to get their fill. As they do this, the sticky pollen spores that attach to the insects' limbs are transferred to the pistils of other plants they visit. The miracle of cross-pollination has occurred.
Not all of the pollen is transferred to the pistils, however. Some of it remains on the insect. When honeybees return to their hives with a stomach full of nectar, pollen spores can also be found in and on the bee. Bees make honey by regurgitating the nectar (and pollen) into their mouths. Inside, enzymes break down the nectar into simple sugars. Bees spit the ensuing mixture into individual honeycombs and evaporate much of the water found in it by flapping their wings over it. Then they cover the honeycomb with wax until they're ready to use if for food or until a beekeeper breaks into the hive to remove the honey-filled combs found within.
Exactly what does this have to do with your runny nose, watery eyes and scratchy throat? Read the next page to find out how honey may cure what ails you.