Without pollinators, there wouldn’t be much to look at or eat. Pollinators are responsible for aiding the growth of over 80% of the world’s 1,400 crop plants (the plants that produce all of our food and plant-based industrial products). According to the USDA, without pollinators, the human race and all of earth’s terrestrial ecosystems would not survive.
The USDA goes on to say that bees and other pollinators help produce more flavorful, larger fruits and vegetables and produces higher crop yields. In the United States alone, pollination of agricultural crops is valued at 10 billion dollars annually. Pollination services are likely worth more than 3 trillion dollars globally.
• Who are the pollinators? The pollinators are animals that assist plants in their reproduction and include species of ants, bats, bees, beetles, birds, butterflies, flies, moths, wasps, as well as other unusual animals.
• What is pollination? Pollination is the act of transferring pollen grains from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma. A pollinator will eat or collect pollen for its nutrition or sip nectar from a flower and the pollen grains will attach to the animal’s body. When the animal moves on to another flower, pollen will fall off the animal onto the flower’s stigma and could result in successful reproduction of the flower.
• Why is pollination important? As it was stated above, without pollinators, the human race and all of earth’s terrestrial ecosystems would not survive. They aid in the growth of more than 150 food crops in the US, including almost all of the fruit and grain crops. They also help with the reproduction of flowering plants which produce breathable oxygen by utilizing the carbon dioxide produced by plants and animals as they respire.
On June 20, 2014, the White House released a “Presidential Memorandum—Creating a Federal Strategy To Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators” which states, “Over the past few decades, there has been a significant loss of pollinators, including honey bees, native bees, birds, bats, and butterflies, from the environment. The problem is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food production systems, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment.” It goes on to say that, “Given the breadth, severity, and persistence of pollinator losses, it is critical to expand Federal efforts and take new steps to reverse pollinator losses and help restore populations to healthy levels.”
On the agricultural level, the Arizona Farm Bureau is currently communicating with the EPA on the steps they take to protect their crops from harmful pests while at the same time minimalizing the harm to bees. For more detailed information on this, you can click here.
Fortunately there are also things we can do on an individual level to help maintain pollinator populations.
1. Plant a Garden
Planting nectar and pollen-rich flowers is probably the best step you can take to help maintain pollinator populations. Wildflowers and old fashioned flower varieties are the best for this. According to gardeners.com, a sequence of blooming annuals, perennials and shrubs is best so that pollen and nectar are available throughout the growing season. They say you should also include plants like dill, fennel, and milkweed for the butterfly larvae to feed on. To protect pollinators, do not use pesticides on open blossoms or when bees or other pollinators are present.
Any size garden will attract and help the pollinators. It could be anything from a meadow or yard full of wildflowers down to a window-box. Gardeners.com states that just a patchwork of pollinator gardens in neighborhoods, cities, and rural areas around the country could provide enough habitat to restore healthy communities of beneficial insects and pollinators.
• Plants that attract Butterflies
Alyssum, Aster, Bee balm, Butterfly bush, Calendula, Cosmos, Daylily, Delphinium, Dianthus, Fennel, Globe thistle, Goldenrod, Hollyhock, Lavender, Liatris, Marigold, Musk mallow, Nasturtium, Oregano, Phlox, Purple coneflower, Queen Anne’s lace, Sage, Scabiosa, Shasta daisy, Stonecrop, Verbena, Yarrow, Zinnia
• Plants that attract caterpillars
Borage, Fennel, Grasses, Hollyhocks, Lupine, Milkweed, Nettle, Thistle, Willow
• Plants that attract hummingbirds
Ajuga, Bee balm, Begonia, Bleeding heart, Butterfly weed, Canna, Cardinal flower, Century plant, Columbine, Coral bells, Cleome, Crapemyrtle, Dahlia, Dame’s rocket, Delphinium, Fire pink, Four o’ clocks, Foxglove, Fuchsia, Gilia, Geranium, Gladiolus, Glossy abelia, Hollyhocks, Impatiens, Iris, Lantana, Liatris, Lily, Lupine, Nasturtium, Nicotiana, Paintbrush, Penstemon, Petunia, Phlox, Sage, Salvia, Scabiosa, Scarlet sage, Sweet William, Verbena, Yucca, Zinnia
• Plants that attract bees
Perennials and Annuals: Allium, Aster, Basil, Bee balm, Bee plant, Bergamot, Blanket flower, Borage, Cosmos, Flax, Four o’clock, Gaillardia, Geranium, Giant hyssop, Globe thistle, Goldenrod, Helianthus, Hyssop, Joe-pye weed, Lavender, Lupine, Marjoram, Mint, Mullein, Paint brush, Poppy, Rosemary, Sage, Skullcap, Sunflower, Thyme, Verbena, Wallflower, Wild rose, Zinnia
Trees, Shrubs and Fruit: Almond, Apple, Cherry, Gooseberry, Hawthorn, Linden, Pear, Plum, Raspberry, Strawberry, Wild lilac, Willow
2. Have Food and Water Available
Your pollinator garden/landscape will provide pollen and nectar, but bees, birds, and butterflies also need water. Set up a bird bath or a catch basin to collect rain water. Butterflies like muddy puddles, they flock to them for salts and nutrients as well as water. To provide further nutrients, and to help attract more hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden you should consider adding some of those special feeders (like the pretty glass blossom feeders found at many garden supply locations) to your garden/landscape.
3. Provide Shelter for Pollinators
Pollinators need shelter to get out of the elements, tend to their young, and hide from predators. To help with this you could let a part of your yard, like a hedgerow, grow wild for ground-nesting bees. A perfectly clean yard does not provide the raw materials that wild bees and birds need to construct nests. Even a small area with dry grasses and reeds and dead wood will help. You could allow a dead tree to stand to create nooks for solitary bees and butterflies. Or, you could even provide nesting boxes to help increase the population of pollinators. Bat boxes are a great place for the bats to raise their young, and having some bats around could help you eliminate pests.
4. Become a Beekeeper
If you want to go all out, you could consider becoming a backyard beekeeper. According to the Pollinator Partnership, the U.S. has lost over 50 percent of its managed honeybee colonies in the past 10 years. This sharp decline has been dubbed colony collapse disorder (CCD), which is defined as a series of symptoms, whose causes are still not fully understood.
At one point in time, keeping a beehive or two in the yard was common practice. Why not bring it back? All you need is to be willing to learn, a little bit of space, plenty of nearby flowers, and a source of water. For detailed information on getting started, the article Beekeeping: A Hobby with Sweet Rewards found on gardeners.com is a good place to start. The Pollinator Partnership also provides good beekeeping information on their webpage.