This Buzzy Insect May Be the Secret to Growing the Best Blueberries
We had no idea!
Summertime yields some of the most glorious produce, and in the South, this bounty almost always includes an abundance of berries. In particular, the rabbiteye blueberry loves some good Southern soil. Those tiny blue bubbles of tart but sweet flavor not only make for delicious desserts-crumble, buckle, cobbler, we're looking at you-but they also prove to be big business for Southern farmers.
Rabbiteye blueberries are what we are used to here in the South and just call blueberries. Chances are you didn't even know about that rabbiteye name, but it comes from the growing process. These berries are pink before they turn blue-pink, like the eye color of a white rabbit. This particular variety abounds in Southern fields during the warm summer months, and specifically in Louisiana and Mississippi. Flowers on the blueberry plants of these two states have a 70 percent success rate of producing fruit, in contrast to just 10 to 30 percent in other states. But why? For starters, they are easy to grow and don't attract many pests. But the key to a successful, large crop? Pollination. Yes, that's right. Bees save the day for yet another Southern staple.
Atlas Obscura recently shared the findings of a study by researchers from the Department of Agriculture that was published in the Journal of Economic Entomology. "We looked at multiple species of bees to see which did the best job of pollinating rabbiteye blueberries," Robert Danka, coauthor of the study, said in a statement, as reported by Atlas Obscura. To gather their findings, researchers tested many different species of bees including, managed honey bees, native bumblebees, southeastern blueberry bees (also native), and carpenter bees during a three-year period. Only southeastern blueberry bees and honey bees increased the number of flowering fruits. Southeastern blueberry bees proved to be the best pollinators because honey bees, while they do pollenate, they aren't reliable. They often leave for other plants, or greener pastures, if you will. The way bees help grow blueberries is through the process of buzz pollination. This happens when a bee lands on a flower and shakes their flight muscles at a rapid pace. This shakes out all the pollen in the flower like it is dancing to a top 40 hit. Some of that pollen attaches to the bee and moves onto the next flower with it. Bumblebees can perform this action as well but generally aren't around in a large enough number during early spring.
Unlike the honey bee, the southeastern blueberry bee prefers to stay close to the blueberries and are ground-nesting. They do not build or live in hives. Rather these bees like shade and leaf litter and they also live alone, not in colonies. According to the study, increasing the southeastern blueberry bee population on your land will yield you a bounty of berries. But it helps to have your field or patch adjacent to forestry. To read the full report click here. We feel rather inspired to visit our local farmers for a carton or two right now.