Do moose pollinate alders?

Moose with leaves in antlers.

Some questions reach out to me. Upon reading this one, I imagined a muscular hulk with diaphanous wings and hairy legs daintily kissing tiny alder flowers with sloppy brown lips, gently spreading their seed amidst the vernal grass-green tree tops. I thought is was a joke and it made me laugh. But when a similar question bounced in a few days later I began to wonder if this was a serious question.

Of course, any animal that can reach alder flowers can transfer their pollen simply by brushing against them. But I don’t think incidental pollination is what the question is about.

Something about it reminded me of the inmates at the prison where I taught plant propagation and beekeeping. To them “pollination” was a word without meaning. Every new group of men in my classes was bowled over when I began talking about pollination as plant sex. They would giggle, turn red, accuse me of trying to trick them, or stare coldly in defiant disbelief. Liar.

My point is that pollination is not universally understood. In fact, until about ten years ago, unless you were a botanist or a beekeeper, you seldom heard the word. It was reserved for the classroom and forgotten by summer break. By the time it showed up on a SAT test, the best you could do was guess.

Today, the words “pollinator” and “pollination” are everywhere, but experience tells me that the concept is less than crystal clear. “It’s what bees do,” or “it has to do with food,” are typical explanations I have heard. That pollination concerns the transfer of genetic material from one flower to another is not foremost in people’s minds—or even in their imaginations.

When you have an interest—and you spend time with like-minded individuals—it is easy to assume that everyone knows what you know or believes what you believe. For example, when I was a graduate student in environmental science, my classmates and I had similar beliefs. Sure we disagreed on how to handle problems, but we all were concerned about climate change, loss of biodiversity, ocean acidification, aquifer depletion, and algae blooms—after all, our concern for these things is what brought us together. But out in the real world, it is shocking to learn that many folks don’t even believe these problems exist.

In a similar way, when we bee lovers talk about bee health, pollination, or the human food supply, we should stop to see if our audience—be it friend, family member, or study group—understand what we are saying, what the words mean, and the basic concepts. Communication can’t occur when people don’t understand meaning.

So while I may be reading too much into the moose in the alder, it serves as a reminder: If we want to get our message across about the importance of bees, habitat, environment, and pesticides, we have to take time to assure our words have meaning to those we hope to reach.


Moose with leaves in antlers.

A moose down from the trees. Pixabay public domain photo.


  • Rusty,

    I guess those “Cleveland Joes” (officially Sisters of St. Joseph of Cleveland, Ohio) deserved more credit (and we were more fortunate) than we knew at the time. My siblings, peers and I learned about pollination in 6th grade, along with crop rotation, nitrogen fixation and contour plowing. Of course we were surrounded by farmland, and our parents gardened, so maybe the lessons were reinforced at home.

    But thanks for reminding me, for the next workshop on pollinator-supportive weed control, not to assume that the audience is on the same page to start with. No wonder it’s been so easy for industrial agriculture to supplant an entire food culture and good farming ways.

    Moose, indeed. Do you think maybe they meant “fertilize”?

    • Nan,

      Your comment was an ah-ha moment. Yes, fertilize in the reproductive sense could be confused with fertilize in the farming sense. Very astute.

  • That was a very daintly description of a moose possibly pollinating an alder, in keeping with the up coming Valentines Day.

  • So, do they or don’t they pollinate alders? is it a significant amount? I’m getting ready to do a little presentation on pollinators and plants, guess I’ll have to include moose!

    • Lyn,

      No, moose do not pollinate alders. Incidental pollination could happen if the tree were shorter than the moose, but this would be insignificant and only haphazard.

    • Glen,

      I was going to see if someone would Photoshop a picture like that for me, but you found the real thing! I’m so impressed!

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