This post was written by Science Reference Specialist Ashley Cuffia.
June 22-28th is National Pollinator Week highlighting these often forgotten natural workers that are an important part of the world’s ecosystem and our daily lives. Bats, beetles, birds, bees, butterflies and other small mammals are in charge of the important task of carrying pollen from plant to plant. According to the National Park Service, 75% of flowering plants on the planet need help with pollination, and those plants make up one of every three bites of food that we eat. This adds up to 1,200 different food crops and 180,000 different types of plants. In turn, these plants help to create the oxygen we breathe, clean the water that we drink, stabilize the soil that we live on, and feed the wildlife around us.
Pollination is the process of pollen being moved from the male part of the flower (stamen) to the female part of a plant (stigma). The spread of pollen has to happen for plants to be fertilized, so that they can then create the fruits and seeds that we eat, along with helping to create other new plants. Pollination is a two way street for pollinators. The plants feed the pollinators with nectar or other protein rich pollen and in turn, the pollinators spread pollen to help fertilize the plants.
Pollinators are in Danger
Pollinators are in danger from a variety of factors:
- Pesticides- the ones that farmers use to protect their crops are not always insect-specific. The chemicals that they use to kill the harmful bugs, also kill the helpful pollinators, such as bees.
- Diseases- there are a variety of diseases that affect specific pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, that are on the rise and can wipe out local populations and hives in a short span of time.
- Ecosystem Destruction- when we cut down forests or plow over meadows, we are not only destroying the habitat that these creatures live in, we are also cutting off their food supply.
What You Can Do
One way that you can help out your local pollinator ecosystem is by creating something as big as a pollinator garden or something as simple as planting a few outdoor flowering plants. Pollinator gardens are not only a beautiful addition to your yard, but also are a boon to the local pollinators. According to the U.S. Forest Service, there are a few things that you can do to attract and help out these necessary creatures:
- Use a wide variety of plants that will bloom from early spring into late fall to give them the longest amount of time to not only spread the pollen, but in the case of bees, to stock up on enough food to last through the winter.
- Avoid modern hybrid plants. Even though these plants are pretty to look at, the designers of these plants sometimes create plants that do not have pollen or nectar for the pollinators.
- Try to avoid pesticides. Though you may want to keep pests out of your garden, these chemicals are bad for pollinator business, especially for bees. Try using a natural remedy instead, or if a pesticide must be used, use it at night when the pollinators are not out eating.
- Try to add larval host plants in your garden. These plants will be eaten, so you may want to put them in a less visible area. Pollinators like butterfly caterpillars will be grateful that you have given them something to eat during their process of metamorphosis.
- You can add nectar resources to your yard by putting out a hummingbird feeder. Not only does this attract hummingbirds, the flying race car drivers of the avian world, but butterflies and bees will also like a drink of this sweet treat.
Even doing one of these suggestions will vastly improve the lives of the pollinators in your area.
To learn more about the different types of pollinators, how to attract them, and how to create a pollinator garden, please see the links below:
- U.S. Forest Service: Pollinators
- U.S. Forest Service: What You Can Do
- USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service: Insects and Pollinators
- National Park Service: Pollinators
- Pollinator Partnership: About Pollinators
Books on Pollinators
- Pollinators of native plants: attract, observe and identify pollinators and beneficial insects with native plants by Heather Holm (2014)
- Evolution of plant-pollinator relationships by Sebastien Patiny (2012)
- Animals help plants by Mary Lindeen (2019)
- Pollinating plants by Karen Latchana Kenney (2019)
Podcasts and Videos