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Boulder’s Hidden Gem: Discovering the Cactus Flowers of Waneka Lake

Waneka Lake  (accent on the “Wa“) always holds some surprise. In addition to the near 100 degrees F, 38 degrees C, I spotted a group of flowering cactus. They looked quite healthy in the blistering heat. The honeybee also seemed to be in its element.

The honey bee, Apis mellifera, is one of nature’s most prolific and important pollinators, playing a vital role in the health of ecosystems and agriculture. These industrious insects are responsible for the pollination of approximately 70% of the world’s flowering plants, including many crops humans rely on for food. Honey bees transfer pollen from the male parts of flowers (anthers) to the female parts (stigmas), facilitating fertilization and the production of fruits and seeds.

One of the less commonly discussed but fascinating interactions is between honey bees and cactus flowers. Cacti, found primarily in arid and semi-arid environments, produce vibrant, often large flowers that attract a variety of pollinators. Honey bees are particularly effective at pollinating cacti due to their foraging behavior and ability to cover large distances in search of nectar and pollen.

Cactus flowers typically open during the day when honey bees are active. These flowers often exhibit bright colors, such as yellow, red, and pink, which are highly attractive to bees. The structure of cactus flowers, with their abundant pollen and nectar, makes them ideal for bee pollination. As honey bees visit these flowers, they collect nectar and pollen, inadvertently transferring pollen from flower to flower. This process ensures the reproduction of cacti, which are crucial for desert ecosystems as they provide food and habitat for many species.

The relationship between honey bees and cactus flowers highlights the adaptability and ecological importance of bees. Their pollination services are essential not only for maintaining biodiversity but also for supporting human agriculture and food security. The decline in honey bee populations due to habitat loss, pesticides, and diseases poses a significant threat to these delicate ecological relationships and underscores the need for conservation efforts.

Lenny Lensworth Frieling

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