The Birds, the Bees, and the Flowering Cherry Trees

Red colored Cardinal perched on a tree branch.
Northern cardinal

National Biological Information Infrastructure photo

When you stroll through National Mall and Memorial Parks, you witness an intricately cultivated ecosystem. Almost all the plants are bred, selected, planted, pruned, and culled for visual effect. Yet untamed natural processes still occur and several species of animals live and flourish in this city “garden.”

Pollinators play a role in the life of this cultivated garden. Each year the color and scent of the cherry blossoms attract a variety of birds and insects. They play an accidental, though essential, role in pollination. Both plants and animals are dependent on pollinators. Pollination is the process by which the plant pollen grains are transferred from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma, which produces seeds for the next generation. Honey bees, wasps, beetles, and other insects fly or crawl to flowers seeking and eating the protein rich pollen. They sponge pollen onto their lower legs, abdomen, and mouth parts. As they fly from flower to flower, the pollen is then transferred to different flowers in different areas. In doing this, pollinators increase the diversity of the landscape’s species.

Birds like northern cardinals and blue jays are attracted to the blossoms in the spring. When the birds eat the blossoms, excess pollen gathers on their beaks thus spreading a wealth of cherry pollen in and around the park. Birds also may trim excess blossoms which helps aid the tree in preventing disease. Although the park plants most of the cherry trees, birds help to maintain that cycle of life. Birds also eat some insects found on the trees providing a supply of protein while also protecting the cherry tree from harmful insects.

So, if we want to continue to enjoy colorful displays and cheerful sounds of spring, we should appreciate the hidden powers of all that comes with that transient beauty. The birds that might leave droppings on you car; the pollen that makes you sneeze; the insects that might deliver a painful sting are all an important part of this delicately cultivated national garden.

Last updated: March 14, 2018