Blueberry plants are most effectively pollinated by sanitation (see below) and the southeastern blueberry bee is very efficient at this. The bee grabs onto a flower and moves its flight muscles rapidly to release the pollen. The bee's face is then covered in pollen, which is inadvertently deposited at the next flower on which the bee forages. These bees are fast foragers and are more efficient at pollinating blueberry plants on a bee per bee basis than honey bees (Apis mellifera) and bumble bees, foraging from early morning to sunset. Although southeastern blueberry bees are only active for a few weeks in the spring, this period of activity occurs during the peak of blueberry bloom. An individual female is capable of visiting 50,000 rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei) flowers in her lifetime, producing over 6,000 ripe blueberries (Cane, J. H., 1997).
These bees are also important pollinators of native wildflowers. They are known to collect pollen from Carolina and swamp jessamine (Gelsemium semprevirens; Gelsemium rankinii), redbud (Cercis canadensis), thistle (Cirsium spp.), and lupine (Lupinus spp.). In fact, the southeastern blueberry bee is one of the most abundant and effective pollinators of Gelsemium in Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida (Pascarella, J. B., 2007).
Sonication, or buzz pollination, is used by some types of bees (e.g., bumblebees, southeastern blueberry bee) to release pollen. The bees grab onto a flower and move their flight muscles rapidly. This causes the flower to vibrate and the pollen to become dislodged. Typically, buzz pollinated flowers have tubular anthers with an opening at only one end. The pollen grains are very small and not oily. Examples of buzz pollinated plants include members of the Solanaceae family (e.g., eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes)and some members of the genus Vaccinium (e.g., blueberries, cranberries). Buzz pollination occurs in about 8% of flowering plants worldwide.
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