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 mindsor even in their imaginations.
When you have an interestand you spend time with like-minded individualsit 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 bloomsafter 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 audiencebe it friend, family member, or study groupunderstand 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.