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What’s the Buzz About Pollinators?

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

The Role of Pollinators in Your Garden

Every year, the third week of June is highlighted to honor pollinators - the wonderful beings that form the backbone of our natural and agricultural ecosystems. These pollinators include insects and animals such as butterflies, bees, beetles, birds, and so much more. Without them, the health of our environment and productivity of our farms would suffer, as these underappreciated creatures are essential to our survival.

Just for perspective, the US Forest Service shares that “of the 1,400 crop plants grown around the world, i.e., those that produce all of our food and plant-based industrial products, almost 80% require pollination by animals.” It is easy to overlook such a fundamental component of our existence, so that’s why we are dedicated to sharing their importance during this special week.

Why are pollinators important?

Pollinators are important because they play a crucial role in maintaining the health and productivity of ecosystems and food systems around the world. Pollinators are responsible for transferring pollen from one flower to another, which is essential for fertilization and the production of seeds and fruit. This process is critical for the reproduction of many plants, including those that produce food for humans and other animals. Without pollinators, many of the foods we eat, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, would not be available.

In addition to their importance for food production, pollinators also play a vital role in maintaining the health and diversity of ecosystems. Pollinators help to facilitate the growth of many different types of plants, which in turn provide habitat and food for other animals. They also help to maintain the balance of ecosystems by promoting biodiversity and preventing the overgrowth of certain plant species.

Unfortunately, many pollinator populations are currently in decline due to a variety of factors, including habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change, and disease. This decline is concerning because it could have significant impacts on both ecosystems and food systems around the world.

What is pollination?

To give a little background on why pollinators are necessary, one must first understand what pollination is and what it does. In order to produce seeds, flowers, fruits, and vegetables, many plants need to be pollinated. Certain plants produce nectar, which attracts advantageous species, such as butterflies, bees, and birds. As these pollinators move from flower to flower gathering nectar, they also transport pollen from one plant to the next.

Flowers have both male and female parts, which are known respectively as anthers and stigma. When pollen grains are moved from anthers to stigma, pollination has occurred. As pollen arrives on the stigma, a piece of pollen develops a tube that reaches from the style to the ovary. Once fertilization occurs, the seeds will soon follow.

Butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds are some of the vital pollinators; however, other types of insects, including moths and beetles, bats, and even the wind can also play a role in the pollination process. But what are the some of the top pollinator plants?

What are some of the top pollinator plants?

There are several types of plants that are great for attracting pollinators. Every garden should incorporate some of these in order to encourage pollination. Pollinator-friendly plants are going to provide nectar and pollen to insects and birds and most are brightly colored to attract these important creatures.

Here are a few of the pollinator-friendly plants you might find or use in a garden:

1) Milkweed: This is a critical plant for monarch butterflies, which rely on it as a food source for their caterpillars. It also provides nectar for a wide variety of other pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and moths.

2) Sunflowers: A favorite of bees and other pollinators, as they produce large quantities of nectar and pollen. They are also easy to grow and come in a variety of sizes and colors.

3) Goldenrod: A late-season bloomer that provides a much-needed source of nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies in the fall. It is also a host plant for several species of moths.

4) Bee Balm: Also known as bergamot, it is a member of the mint family that produces showy flowers in shades of pink, red, and purple. It is a favorite of hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, and is also used in herbal tea.

5) Wild Indigo: A native plant that produces striking blue or purple flowers in the spring. It is a host plant for several species of butterflies and also provides nectar for bees and other pollinators.

6) Coneflowers: Also known as echinacea, they are a popular choice for pollinator gardens. They produce large, showy flowers in shades of pink, purple, and white, and are a favorite of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

7) Liatris: Also known as blazing star, it produces tall spikes of purple or white flowers in the late summer. It is a favorite of butterflies and bees, and is also used in cut flower arrangements.

What can we do to help protect pollinators?

By taking steps to support pollinators, we can help to protect the health and productivity of our ecosystems and food systems for generations to come. Here are some things we can do to help protect and support pollinators:

Reduce pesticide use: research alternative ways to manage pests while protecting pollinators (see our blog post on Pest Management While Protecting Pollinators) reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides that can harm pollinators, and reducing pesticide and herbicide use is an important step in protecting pollinators. Pesticides can be harmful to pollinators, both by directly poisoning them and by destroying the plants and habitats they rely on. By reducing pesticide and herbicide use, we can help to protect pollinator populations and support their role in maintaining the health and productivity of ecosystems and food systems around the world. This can involve using integrated pest management techniques, choosing organic or pesticide-free products, and avoiding the use of pesticides in areas where pollinators are present.

Plant pollinator-friendly plants: planting pollinator-friendly plants is an important step in supporting pollinator populations. These plants provide food and habitat for pollinators and can help to create healthy and diverse ecosystems. Choosing plants that are native to the area and that provide nectar and pollen throughout the growing season will support pollinators and promote healthy ecosystems.

Protect habitats: protecting habitats of pollinators is critical to supporting pollinator populations. This involves preserving and restoring natural areas such as meadows, forests, and wetlands, as well as creating habitats in urban and suburban areas through the planting of pollinator-friendly plants. It also involves avoiding the destruction of nests and hives. By protecting pollinator habitats, we can ensure that these important species have the resources they need to thrive, and can help to maintain the health and productivity of ecosystems and food systems around the world.

Educate the youth: educating youth on protecting pollinators is essential to ensuring the health and productivity of ecosystems and food systems in the future. This can involve teaching children about the importance of pollinators, the threats they face, and the ways in which they can support pollinator populations. By educating youth on these issues, we can help to create a generation of environmental stewards who are committed to protecting pollinators and the ecosystems they support.

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