Human Journey

Avocado Pollinators and the Need for Weeds

Dino Martins studies insect behavior around the world and captures stunning photos of a world often neglected as “small and unimportant.” 

One of my favorite plants (after cacao, which produces chocolate!) is the avocado. They truly are one of the most delicious and nutritious fruits around.

Avocado trees are one of the many different crops that depend on wild insect pollinators. I recently spent some time in the Kerio Valley in northwestern Kenya looking at the insects visiting the avocado flowers.

While crops are only in flower for a short period of time, bees and flies need to eat from a wide range of different wildflowers. Without these plants, the bees, flies and other pollinators would not be able to survive. This would result in far fewer avocados and poor or low yields on the crops that depend on pollinators. Some of the plants that the bees and flies depend on at this site are considered weeds. These weeds, including the infamous “blackjack” (Bidens pilosa) are actually an important resource for wild insect pollinators.

Weeds and wildflowers growing around a farm are essential in order to support healthy wild insect pollinators.

At this small farm near Iten, there were lots of different flowers growing along the edges of the farm, including the lovely, scrambling yellow-flowered creeper in the daisy family (Asteraceae). Several of the avocado pollinators could be found visiting the flowering creeper later in the day after they had been pollinating the avocado flowers.

This is why it is important to have diversity in the farming landscape, like here in Kenya’s beautiful Kerio Valley. More wildflowers and weeds around the farm support more pollinators that produce higher yields.

More from the wonderful world of bugs soon!

Please think of the pollinators when you next enjoy an avocado!

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My name is Dino J. Martins, I am a Kenyan entomologist and I love insects. The Kiswahili word for insect is dudu and if you didn't know already, insects rule the world! Thanks to the amazing efforts of the 'little things that run the world' I was humbled to be selected as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. This blog is a virtual dudu safari through the fascinating world of bugs. Enjoy, leave a comment and send any questions or comments to me through:
  • Ima Ryma

    An avocado like me does
    Rely on bugs that fly about,
    To take a shot at me, becuz
    They pollinate so I can sprout
    The fruit that keeps my kind around.
    Yes, I make fruit that humans crave,
    But as long as the bugs abound,
    There’s still plenty of fruit to save
    The avocado from go – gone.
    The bugs are not monogamous.
    They pick all plants to get it on.
    Avocados just ask, “Pick us!”

    Quickies by all the bugs make new
    The fruit that avocados do.

  • Aaron Dalton

    Very interesting.

    I saw a Japanese film (on an airplane) not too long ago about a man who struggled trying to grow purely organic apples.

    He tried everything – spraying them with all matter of natural substances, hand-picking diseased leaves and insect pests.

    Eventually he found that the trees only thrived when they were left to their own devices surrounded by weeds! Presumably the weeds attracted the beneficial insects that were able to keep the pests under control?

    A valuable lesson in human hubris. There are many interactions in nature beyond our understanding. We should humbly try to determine more of those connections and strengthen food webs and increase biodiversity where possible.


    Frank Cook wild plant advocate and lover- taught me this…utilize & teach the ‘weeds’ and many food problems would go away…i think he was right!!

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