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Flowers' friends.

Byline: Jack Heffernan The Register-Guard

An entire world of highly functioning creatures is at your feet.

That was the message of August Jackson, assistant on-site manager for Mount Pisgah Arboretum, in his "Pollination Ecology Walk" Sunday morning.

During the two-hour walk at the arboretum southeast of Eugene, Jackson explained the often-complicated relationship between pollinators - bees, flies and hummingbirds - and wildflowers.

"There's a lot out there that's just under your nose," Jackson said. "It all seems pretty robotic, but there's a lot of individuality among both pollinators and wildflowers."

Pollination involves an insect or hummingbird landing on a flower to receive nectar and pollen produced from the male part of a flower. After the creature collects the pollen, it moves to a different flower, where the pollen makes contact with a female part. The female part of the flower then uses the pollen to fertilize its ovaries and produce seeds.

Jackson said his goal throughout such walks is to illustrate how the pollination process is much more involved than it appears at first glance.

For example, the Oregon fawn lily changes colors following pollination by insects, Jackson said. Because bees tend to return to wildflowers that are most familiar to them, the now-nutrient-bare flowers switch colors in hopes that the bees will not revisit, making it easier for petals to fall off and the flower to reseed, Jackson said.

Such dynamics are easy to miss during a leisurely nature walk, but eye- opening when explained, said Pat Fischer, an arboretum member who attended Sunday's walk.

"You tend to do a broad sweep and miss a lot of things," Fischer said. "It's the chance to see things much closer because someone is telling you where to look."

Jackson said he likes to include facts that surprise people. Many are taken aback, for example, when he tells them that flies actually conduct about 50 percent of all pollination.

Also, flies and bees often don't have strong-enough legs to push down the petals of some flowers, which means that only hummingbirds can pollinate from them.

Jackson said Oregon is home to 300 bee species and 30 bumblebee species. The ones that pollinate most frequently, however, are not the commonly known Western honeybee.

"You learn that honey bees do not pollinate all our wildflowers but that many are pollinated by our native bees," said Brian Dykstra, who attended the walk.

Recent trends in bee populations are troubling, Jackson said.

Like many species, the Western honeybee, which has existed in its current evolutionary stage in North America for less than 150 years, has experienced yearly colony losses. However, the bees serve as an agricultural commodity, Jackson said, by pollinating many types of flowers, which allows farmers to commercially grow flowers at a faster rate.

This is why, Jackson said, he is not entirely worried about the honeybees' fate.

"They're livestock," he said. "We know how to breed livestock."

On the other hand, species such as the Western bumblebee are actually native to the Willamette Valley, but have been a much rarer sight locally for the past two decades.

"We began to realize that there are a lot of native species in trouble as well," Jackson said. "There's a lot more to worry about with our native bees."

There is, however, reason for optimism, Jackson said. He said fascination with bugs and flowers is on the rise, calling it "the next bird watching."

"It's captivated people because they are so alien to us," he said.

While it can be easy to overlook, a better understanding of everything that goes on within the world of pollination can change people's perspective about nature as a whole, Jackson said.

"If we can start to appreciate the little things," Jackson said, "more people will care about preserving the environment."

Follow Jack on Twitter @JackTHeffernan. Email
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Title Annotation:Nonprofits
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Apr 13, 2015
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