This is why honey bees never pollinate wheat

Wheat is a grass, so it is wind-pollinated. No bees are necessary.

Inside: Honey bees never pollinate wheat because wheat is in the grass family. Plants in the grass family rely on wind pollination alone and never depend on bees.

The grass family comprises flowering plants pollinated by the wind. Since the grasses do not need to attract animal pollinators, the plants do not expend energy to produce colorful petals, sweet nectar, or attractive odors. You will seldom see bees, butterflies, moths, or any other pollinator paying attention to a wheat field.

However, the grass family feeds a large portion of the human population. According to the Food and Agriculture Association (FAO), the big three grass crops—maize (corn), wheat, and rice—account for over 40% of all human calories consumed. Other grains from the grass family include barley, sorghum, millet, oats, rye, triticale, teff, spelt, and kamut.

Grasses produce lots of pollen

Like most wind-pollinated plants, grasses produce large quantities of pollen. Honey bees often seek out grass pollen and collect it readily, which is no problem unless the plants contain systemic insecticides. The pesticides travel throughout the plants with some of them lodging in the pollen grains. Honey bees end up tainting their food stores when these chemical pesticides are brought into the hive.

If you think you’ve seen your honey bees collect grass pollen, you are probably correct. Although the grasses produce no nectar, the plentiful pollen may ripen at a time when honey bees need a good alternative source of pollen. However, remember that the bees are not pollinating the grasses, they are just collecting the pollen.

Bees use less nutritious pollen when necessary

Although grass pollen is not very nutritious for bees, it can help them through times of shortage if it isn’t contaminated with chemicals. Honey bees are very resourceful and often find ways to feed themselves and their sisters in times of shortage.

Honey Bee Suite


  • Hi Rusty,

    I’ve also always been told that the bees don’t benefit from wheat. Evidently, no one told my bees that! I had my honey tested for the first time this year and the results found it was nearly 35% wheat (not buckwheat, surprisingly). I think it took everyone by surprise as even the testing company included a question mark in their summary email to me. I have some friends who are geneticists and they ran the sequences for me that the lab sent me back, and their results were apparently accurate. So I’m not sure what’s happening, but perhaps there is somehow some tiny amount of nectar and pollen in the wheat that the bees are accessing. It’s definitely strange, but I thought I’d share my unusual finding! I am guessing it may be that they didn’t have a lot of abundant sources since we live in a large monoculture area. I’ve started some bee pasture on my acreage, but we aren’t getting good blooms quite yet. The remainder of the sample was sweet clover (that we planted) and soybeans.

    • Kelly,

      Wheat produces great clouds of pollen, so I am not surprised to hear your honey contains lots of wheat pollen. I’m not even surprised to hear that 35% of the pollen is from wheat. But honey is not made from pollen, honey is made from nectar. Grasses, including wheat, do not have nectaries and do not produce nectar. What I’m saying is you don’t have honey that is 35% wheat, you have honey where 35% of the pollen grains are from wheat, a way different thing.

      Pollen is basically a containment in honey. It is often useful for bee nutrition, but it’s not necessary for the production of honey. Palynologists use pollen to try to figure out what flowers the honey came from, but it’s only an indicator. Most likely, your honey is made from clover and soybean nectar. The wheat pollen may have adhered to the bees’ bodies or more likely it was in the air and landed on flowers where the bees were collecting nectar.

      • Would the bees get enough pollen flying through the air to yield that result? (something something electrostatic charges something?)

        • Roberta,

          If something like clover is near a wheat field, just the wind would bring plenty of pollen to the flowers and it would stick to them and get into the nectar. It would also stick to the bees via electrostatic charges, as you say, and eventually make its way into the hive where nectar is being stored. Around here, alder and cedar pollen land on everything. Anyone allergic to wind-blown pollen will attest to its presence. I had a sample of my honey tested at a fair one time, and most of the pollen was from red alders, trees that bees never visit.

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